Balancing Act

Seven days of Lent have passed and I find myself held in the balance between holding on and letting go.  In a real sense as I am in the middle of things — in the midst of transition — like the second pause between the in-breath and the out-breath, when the heart shallows and it’s before the next thing…unconsciously and involuntarily.  I am reminded of the tension between the theoretical and the actual.  ​Theoretically, I like change — I have an allergic response to “ordinary time” — but change seems better when it’s happening to someone else.
I am reminded of a conversation I had with my Father a year or two after I had entered the Society of the Sacred Heart and was waxing eloquently about the value of shared goods and the community of held resources to be shared by all.  He listened attentively, but the eye-twinkle let me know he was about to issue a quick rebuttal.  He simply replied, “that’s great, but you know you no longer qualify to be independently approved for an American Express card.” He knew that it would sear through my rhetoric as it had been a personal victory to have achieved independence as measured by American Express. It was true.  The reality collided with the theory.  
Real awakens me from the slumber of ideology without action.  So does Lent.  I stand in the balance between holding on and letting go — between really changing habits, thoughts, actions and considering doing so.  I’ve been influenced lately by a book that our management team has read and been attempting to live, “The One Thing” by Gary Keller.  Among other management tools that take old principles and innovate them with a contemporary twist, he offers a compelling challenge to the mythology of multi-tasking as a viable way of life.  The simplicity of radical change in an age-old truth — one thing at a time yields results while more than one yields compromise.  
As my wise brother says to me often, “life is all about choices” — and the choice of Lent is ours — to hold on to the old ideas, old things, old files, old patterns, old habits and old ways — or to believe that the arrival of the spring seed catalog signals the time to “till” our internal garden of that which prevents growth.  A week beyond the ashes and the first layer of ice melts — and it is time to heed the words of the prophet — it’s not enough to HEAR the good news.  As Abe Lincoln often commented, “a sermon is no good unless it calls us to act.”  
In the balance, between holding on and letting go….

The desert

​The First Week of Lent
Now, the journey begins
Like the days we prepare for a trip 
(go to the bank, fill the prescriptions, stop the mail, buy toothpaste)
And the decisions about what we take and what we leave behind 
(often too much is packed and rarely is what not taken missed)
When finally the moment comes that the unfinished work will have to wait
 (except of course what can still be done on the plane)
The destination is unclear — which is why we call it a journey
We find ourselves in the desert
So did Jesus
(at least mine)
looks different 
(although I have never been to His)
But, I know well both being cared for by angels and tempted by devils
We sit in the middle of the desert
My desert isn’t quiet and abandoned and still
There is no sand and heat and barren land
My desert has keyboards and Tweets and Posts and plans
It is chaotic and restless and is filled with endless chatter from 24 hour news cycles
My desert tempts me to despair and invites me to relinquish my small actions in lieu of the comfort of powerlessness
There is no burning bush of confirmation
Just the simple direction, 
“Just make the next right choice”
In the desert of Lent, we face ourselves
There is no post, no text, no You Tube, no Ted Talk that has the answer
The desert leads us into the whisper in the midst of the noise
Gratitude extinguishes despair
Connection heals isolation and the paralysis of inaction
The desert is where we are — 
Never alone
Listening to the whisper 
Making the Next Right Choice
No more preparing for the Lenten Journey
We are on it.
In the desert
That’s All.
Very Simple.
Very Hard to Do
Today, Just Make the Next Right Choice

Be The Light

The Lights Went Out
and I was thrust into the volcanic ash
of the terror within me
as Lent unfolded 
with kids who went 
to school
just like the ones I love
only they didn’t go home
from the Florida school
that now lives within me
and I felt my heart break open
as I listened to the wrenching news
and I could only feel the dark
Lent is not something 
that marks the calendar 
and creates a diet plan
with a spiritual bonus
is where the lights go out
and we meet the others 
who have spent time sitting in
the pit of darkness
without a single spark
Sarah, and Moses, and Mary of Magdelene
Jacob, and Matthew, and Miriam and Ruth
Martha and Isaiah, Joshua and John
and you
and me
bids us to let go 
of what has always been
and the parts of life
that no longer fit
that clutter
that keep us numb
none of it matters
if we are not willing to
stop trusting the darkness 
and to be willing to 
Not to Look for the Light
but to
Be The Light
and to be willing to be the light
When the Lights go out
and kids don’t go home
and we choose again

Lenten Lessons

It was a different time.  Television remote controls meant the youngest child turned the dial on command (at least in my family). We had a particular skill at setting the “rabbit ears” so the screen fuzz would matriculate into a picture — at least as long as the aluminum foil at the tip of the antenna held the signal.
                                                                                                                                                       The family phone line was shared by all seven of us and when the timer rang, no matter the importance of the call, someone else was in line.  There were things that were just bound to happen — like what my Dad would give up for Lent.
                                    It was a different time.  Marlboro Reds went where my Dad did.  Every shirt had a pocket on the left hand side for the box of Marlboro’s and I found the familiar hint of smoke part of the smell that made my world feel safe and right.  It meant my Dad was home.
                                    Lent was different, though. At the mark of 12 a.m. on Ash Wednesday,  he would pack up any leftover boxes and they went on the shelf in his closet.  It still amazes me that he had this amazing resilience to make the choice not to smoke during Lent, and keeping a few handy in the closet made it a choice, not a removal of the possibility.  Even when a quadruple by-pass made the decision to quit a final one, he kept a carton of Marlboro Reds — just in case he changed his mind.  (Clearly, that portion of the DNA structure got used up in my four older siblings as I prefer not to have the source of problems within my reach).
                                           Every Lent he stopped on the moment that Ash Wednesday began and started again at the moment that the chimes began to ring in Easter.  There was the annual conversation as my mother would implore him to keep up the Lenten fast after Easter Alleluia had begun and he would simply respond, “But if I stop smoking, what will I give up for Lent?  There is simply nothing else to change.”  With the emphatic blend of Irish and German wit and clarity she would quickly retort, “I would be happy to provide you a list of what else needs to change.”
                                      What I didn’t know until far into my adult years was that there was a second part to the Lenten formula.  In my Dads dresser, there was a mason jar for Lent and into that jar, even in times of financial distress, there was a daily deposit for every day of the smokeless Lent.  On Easter Sunday, every dollar saved was equally divided between their two favorite charities, half to St. Jude to whom my mother gave credit for my father’s return from the war, and half to the St. Vincent De Paul Society, a passionate work through all of my father’s life.  No fanfare or acclamation or recognition, just a check written at the end of Lent, even when the weekly food budget was stretched beyond reason.
                                        I’ve been thinking in the last few days about how my sense of Lent was shaped by watching them.  Not words, but actions.  Not lectures, but living.  Not dramatic statements of perfection, but the evidence of change.  Refraining, releasing, refusing is not really the lesson of Lent.  But it’s what happens because we make the choice.  While I thought the point of doing without the Marlboro Reds was the sacrifice of withdrawal, in fact — it was the only way that there would be something to give to others. I nearly missed the point.
Or maybe — it was the point.
                       Maybe, the real point, is to keep the outcome hidden — get our habits that keep us stuck in ourselves out of the way, so God’s light can shine through us.  Perhaps, what today means for us is to let go of that which takes up our space and time, so that we are able to give from the hidden jar of treasure that we don’t even realize we have.  We abstain from one thing so that something else is possible.  It’s not the abstinence that is the point, it’s what it makes possible.  And yet, without letting go of the Marlboro Reds, there would have been nothing to give.
                      Sometimes, the Marlboro Reds in my life are clear — but more often, I have to look for the source that blocks the giving.  More often, Lent becomes a detective novel of discovery in the interior chapters of my life to see what needs to be on the fasting list.  Then, I can discover the feasting of giving instead of needing.
                       Happy ASH Thursday — the warm-up days before the real training arrives!

happy vaLENTine’s day

​What do 2018, 1945, 1934, 1923, 1877 and 2029 have in common?
Valentines Day and Ash Wednesday
colliding on the same day, with Easter Sunday on April 1st.
(And for those of us with undying hope…the Detroit Tigers website seems to think it’s a good omen as the 1945 Tigers won the World Series and there was a traffic stopping winter storm on February 9th — that’s about the best news I’ve heard about the Tigers for a while)
Welcome to VaLENTines  Day/Ash Wednesday.
And, welcome to my Lenten journey.  ​I’m glad to have your company along the journey.
I do my best thinking, praying and being and imagining in the middle of a community of friends and family.
Some stories, some prayers, some directions Lent sends me, and some hopes I have for the life we share.
Nothing terribly earth-shattering, but actually, nothing that feels more important.
Show Up- Pay Attention-Tell the Truth-Don’t be Attached to the Results
Over these next 40 days, we will form a cobweb of connection that will catch what we need and let the cocoon that we have built over these months of fallow time unravel and fall away and reveal whatever it is that will happen.  Some of us could use some of our outer layers to melt away like snow, as the carbs and comfort of the past seem to linger while there is something new waiting to find life in us.  Others of us need to connect with those who can spark the life of hope and the possibility that underneath the frozen tundra, there is a hybrid waiting to be grafted from  opposites into the civil discourse of deciding that we can make something new happen instead of regurgitating the same old solutions that don’t work.  And still others are ready to roll back their heads in a belly laugh that cures the woes and is contagious in its promise.
It’s Lent — the kind that begins on VaLENTines  Day…with love at the center of it.
Not the soft kind of love that is sugar-coated in red boxes of satin
But the real stuff of love where truth is told and it’s feedback, not failure.
The kind of love that has room for human imperfection and lets humor find a cavity in the middle of the mess of life.
It’s Lent-love…like the year I gave up beets for Lent and my ‘beloved’ siblings neglected to remind me that whatever you gave up for Lent you got on Sunday in heaping qualities…(now, really you guys– and don’t think I’ve forgotten….)
Lent Love is the real stuff of life — the dull and the thrilling and the real-ness of living
It all starts today with a few ashes to help us remember 
that it’s all a gift and we get it one day at a time
It starts with today and putting aside what gets in our way
and picking up what works better
It begins with seeing the clutter and chaos
and then doing something about it
and then not filling up the space again
So that something new can grow there
in the  VaLENTines heart that has room
Welcome to these days and words and images we will share
the path we walk
the light that shows up when we need it
and the community we create
right now
right here
“Be The Light”
Happy VaLENTines Day
Lent it be your Path