21 minutes

One of my objectives in life is to refrain from creating new material for the sacrament of reconciliation…or in the language of the 12 steps, “admitted to God, myself and another human being the exact nature of my wrongs” — in either language, it’s unpleasant. 
 
 I like the result — sort of like the feeling of having all the laundry done — …the interior “ducks in a row” — but I don’t like the means for getting there.  So, I work (often ineffectively) at not creating new material that needs attention, reconciliation and the grace to receive forgiveness.  Lent brings me to full attention in this process.  With more awareness comes greater connection to what needs to change.
 
As those closest to me know, I was born without a dimmer switch.  I have two speeds “100 miles per hour and off.”  I am allergic to things that are routine or seem pointless or repetitive in nature — which is a problem when it comes to forms, files and other detail-driven reporting devices.  Lent, accreditation requirements and audits were made for people like me — structures which demand a certain form of penance as a minimum basic standard.  During Lent, I try to clean up some of the chaos and extend the self-discipline which has been required to shape my meditation practice to other parts of my life.
 
And while it would be tempting (and perhaps useful to those who live and work with me) to see Lent as a way to implement the slick ideas in one of the many ‘how to organize your space and fix your life’ books that are splattered throughout my bookshelves, it is not a self-help season.  Instead, Lent takes us through the layers of self-absorption promoted in our culture and leaves us in the clarity that can be found at the bottom of the ocean.  There, through the first layers of silt, there is a stillness and a clarity that lets us know where to build a bridge of relationship.
 
This Lent, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I take part in an age-old cultural ritual that is nearly extinct.  I take out a piece of paper that is devoid of the Hallmark seal, a plain white envelope, a stamp and a pen.  I sit there until I know with whom it is that this Lent calls me into re-connection — perhaps an amend or a mend of the heart — perhaps a remembrance of a time that seems lost — perhaps the person who works in the office down the hall that I haven’t recognized for the heart of things.  I pick up the pen and the paper and set my phone alarm for 21 minutes and I write a note.  
 
The first couple of notes were easy ones — my cousin in South Dakota that I have lost contact with since my mother’s death — a person who taught me in college and shaped the educator that I am today — our local Archbishop who probably doesn’t get much mail that has no problem and no complaint.  But, with each Tuesday and each Thursday, I have started to notice that I start thinking a day or two ahead about who is next…and like the little plant — the roots go deeper and the notes are about some of that ‘sacrament of reconciliation material.’  I notice that it’s about a student from 15 years ago that I shouldn’t have suspended — or the piece of gossip that I repeated — or the regret I have that I didn’t leave the work behind and get on a plane.  And, then I notice that when I write those notes from the bottom of the well, there is more light and space in the days between.
 
It’s all very simple.  A pen, a piece of paper devoid of the Hallmark seal, an envelope, a stamp and 21 minutes.  It is contrary to my over-active pituitary gland.  There are no chimes, posts, tweets or benchmarks.  It doesn’t change anything — except maybe it changes everything…from the inside out.
And, for 21 minutes, I am likely to not create new material for ‘my next confession’
It’s Thursday…I invite you to join me — for 21 minutes…

Waiting for the Thaw from the Inside-Out

“See that frozen ground, Brightness. Underneath it, are all the bulbs we planted.  

The hard, frozen ground protects them so they can be the first to pop out.”

My father was definitively credible in my young eyes.  Likely more credible than most any other source of information in my life, but this confounded my trust.  The Nebraska ground was covered with inches of snow and ice and cold and the tulip bulbs that outlined the garden were a distant memory.

Decades later, I have an annual renewal of doubt that there will be a spring thaw.  In the outside world, and in the interior one.  On Ash Wednesday, I was confident that Easter conversion was just 40 days away.  Fervor, confidence and commitment showered me with trust in the process.  In the middle of the journey, it seems less clear.  Like those tulip bulbs that I doubted were being nourished below the concreted layer of rock solid soil, there is a gravitational pull to discard the resolve and yield to complacency.

Melting the frozen layer takes time – the layer that has gotten less alarmed with the daily reports of violence – the layer that expects inaction from those with the power to  make change – the layer that expects less personal connection in the midst of more digital contact – the layer that waits for God to act like the tooth fairy instead of empowering the human race to be more human – the layer that prefers to binge-watch instead of determining the next right step.

Melting the frozen layer takes time, but Lent removes the layers.  I discover the twinge of knowing that something else is required of me.  As the thaw takes shape, I see the disparity between what I value and what I do – and I know that those tulip bulbs will never pop through the soil, nourished and done with fallow time, — unless I shovel the snow.

This week, I notice the thaw of the heart and the awakening of my thinking.  For me, it is the simple act of the next right choice – and to trust what I cannot see.

Live Lent.

Retrospect on the Third Week of Lent

We had a big snow last week – not enough to invalidate the snow day calculator, but enough to delay, disturb and discourage the daffodils.  As I walked along the driveway – I was reminded of the magical feeling I had on Christmas Eve as a few brave souls and a few good friends gathered in for midnight mass in the midst of a snowstorm.  In December, it was magical – in March, it is something closer to misery.

Beautiful misery, but nonetheless – discouragement as the buds of spring are waiting to pop and the hibernation of all forms of the animal kingdom has nearly worn out its welcome.  I was pondering all this while counting my steps on a trek through the building when a fourth grader stopped me with his piercing question, “I have a good idea for Lent.”  “What’s that?”  I posed as he joined me on my walk.

“Why don’t you tell all the adults to stop all the shooting and the shouting.  For Lent.  I think it would be a good idea and I think God would be much happier” he suggested with both clarity and definitive expectation.

It stopped me in my tracks.  I wasn’t sure which topic to approach first – violence and his understanding of the world condition – or the fact that he had the misperception that I had any influence large enough to stop the war and start the healing.

I looked at him for a second before he darted off with a quick, “Thanks Sr. Bearss.  See you at lunch.”

That was it – I was left with the prophet having appeared from the fourth grade and the challenges of March Misery-Madness haven been deflated with truth.

Lent offers us truth, but demands action.  It is not enough to hear the challenges of the Gospel – they require something of me.  I may not be able to stop the violence that plagues our cities and threatens our harbors of safety, but I can do something about the wars within my own heart.  It is all about the eyes with which I see the situations that challenge me.  From magical snows of Christmas miracles to the misery of what I don’t want to see in March.  It is the eyes with which I see that creates the difference.

This week, for me, is about seeing differently – and being called to action.

Let us each be the one, like the Samaritan woman from the Sunday Gospel, who steps outside the box of conformity and expectation and dares to reach beyond convention to right action.  Each of us will have the chance this week to fill the jar of someone who stands on the “other side” of the well – the only question will be if we have eyes to see beyond the constraints of our expectations