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…