The Lenten season has begun. There is something about this time of year that leaves me feeling rejuvenated. It’s the final introspection of Winter, gently transitioning into the joy of spring and new growth! This year I have been cautiously reflective in deciding on a Lenten commitment. In the past, it has been a time of giving up something, or focusing on changing a bad behavior.. Generally, my enthusiasm lasts just a few days and then I am back to eating cheese, cursing, or missing church on Sunday. Eating lunch with my three year old granddaughter a few days ago, a discussion about the Ash Wednesday service we would be attending in the morning unfolded. I wanted to prepare her and let her know the deacon would be placing a cross of ash on our foreheads. She asked, “Mimi, what’s ash?” I said, “It’s like dirt.” I didn’t bother to explain the symbolism of ashes to ashes and dust to dust. In between bites of peanut butter and jelly sandwich (with the crusts cut off) she wrinkled her nose, and said, “Ewwwwww.” The conversation continued and I said, ”Cameron, for Lent we give up something for six weeks....like candy or temper tantrums. What are you going to give up?” She looked at me incredulously, big blue eyes wide, and said, "Church." Out of the mouths of babes..... Comical, for sure, but I have echoed that same sentiment these past several years. Why would we want to go places that made us feel bad or degraded us in any manner? I write about my grandchildren often. I see God in and through them. They're my teachers and have led me to many ah ha moments, innocently guiding me through some of the lessons I need to learn.
A seeker since childhood, my curiosity has taken me through most denominations of the Christian faith. I also have stuck a baby toe into the waters of Buddhism, Kabbalah, as well as New Age. Through all those experimentations, I didn't actually find a God of comfort and understanding until I entered a Twelve Step program. In those rooms, I began to learn, I am a spiritual person having a human experience. This God of MY understanding does not possess any of those icky qualities, I heard about Him growing up. My God does not recriminate, discriminate, get angry, or pick favorites. I would have a tough time accepting and depending on a Source with the same human frailties and defects I have. Nonetheless, I seemed to be comfortable participating in many of the same religions and organizations I’d used to seek comfort and enlightenment, in the past. It all enhanced my serenity and knowledge, and it wasn’t difficult for me to take what I needed, privately, and joyfully leave some of ideology behind. Especially in the early days when I wore the blush of newly discovered, Higher Power love.
In the past few years, I haven’t felt comfortable participating in the faith I had freely joined years ago, OR my twelve-step programs; virtually writing off the spiritual communities of any kind. When human beings started acting like human beings, sadly, I copped an I’m “outta here” attitude and put on my protective coat of armor, shielding me from the hypocrisy of the participants. I painfully felt the judgement when I broke “their rules”. As I’ve walked away from those resources, I've adorned myself in the myth of uniqueness, (or as I crudely named it, I put up my BS detectors) and isolated; picking apart and justifying the reasons for my lack of attendance. There is absolutely no denying, there have been a few “program and religious” sorts who have betrayed, lied, and created a cyclone of damage in my life and to my well being. And, it all left me reeling and feeling very alone in living with, and cleaning up some major messes. It appeared "those" people bent “the rules” and hid behind written doctrine, or twisted guidelines to justify their behavior. There have been people who have berated and questioned my choice of my Higher Power. Some have unsolicitedly, evaluated my direction, search and approach in moving towards a greater knowledge of my Creator and His will for my life. Others, plainly didn't honor their word, or walk like they talked, and simply weren't trustworthy. A few even moved into the role of God in determining what they thought best for me. I began to label many of them as THOSE people... You know the ones who dispense unhealthy, fear based information, commandments and rigid rules designed to keep the masses in check. Others were branded a secret society of hypocrites.... It all just left me feeling, mistrustful, sad, and protective.... of my own feelings and sanity.
So, I quit attending, and sharing, and began to fill those needs alone; through meditation, mindfulness practice and spiritual literature. It's true, I have gained a lot of knowledge, and much of it rings good and honorable... in my head. But something was missing.... The feeling of being awash with awe at the stained glass windows at my church. The hug inside my heart of a homily given by a like-minded spirit speaking directly to me and my current condition. Seeing the dawn of awakening in a newcomer's eyes at a twelve step meeting. What I was cutting myself off from, was the palpable Light. The reflection of love that can only be experienced at a soul level, not a left brain level. Humans were created to learn, and grow in this earth school. Much of that growth comes from engaging with others suffering from the same human conditions. If we hand over the rearing to our heads and egos exclusively, we are going to raise a really biased, sick soul. There is an energy that flows through these holy places where people gather. Not everyone acts in purity...we are all works in progress. But, if one sits very quietly and turns the noise way down, we can hear the heartbeat..... the True Life of the “organization”. I know I can rest quietly, just be in the presence of that common energy, and drink from the well of community, learning, and healing.
Our paths are as unique as our fingerprints. When I stop letting the doctrine drown out the greater message, when I eliminate control and judgment, I make a contribution to the aura of Love that changes lives. I need to return to take what I need and leave the rest. I heard the message the other day....in a very round about manner, through my grand-daughter. We can justifiably be hurt or appalled by some of the messengers, but don't burn down the entire town. Practice the principles that enhance yours and others lives and make a positive contribution. Pray for the personalities. How am I any different from what I rejected and ran from, if I pass judgement on others ways, or manipulate and try to control them into believing as I do? My Lenten journey for 2011 is to practice the unconditional love of non-judgement, in all of my affairs. In church Wednesday, I found comfort in the traditions of the Mass itself and the symbolism in the cross of ashes. It gently lead me into a silent prayer asking God to work and walk with me in practicing my Lenten commitment.
And, I think Cameron was moved in some way by her cross of ashes. She spent the day, tenderly touching her forehead. She may want to rethink her Lenten sacrifice! But, that's her call and her little path!