Adapting Lent for Success

It’s the first week of Lent and already I’ve failed miserably. I found myself savoring a crispy piece of bacon before realizing I was eating meat, forbidden on Fridays during the forty some days of Lent, and to make matters worse, it was a garnish on a rather juicy cheeseburger, which I quickly consumed along with my guilt. I was attending a barbecue in the suburbs, with loved ones, what can you do?

Mary Oliver says appetites flash up faster than thoughts and I would be remiss if I did not add they are difficult to harness, impossible to banish, or intimidate with any success. Oliver observes, “I know that appetite is one of the gods, with a rough and savage face, but a god all the same.” So I relent and give into myself before reevaluating my true Lenten intentions. I like Andy Puddicombe’s perspective, “Like a dog chasing its own tail, we attempt to use thinking to escape our own thinking. Much better to simply let go.”

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. . . . Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” Matthew 5:3-6                                                    

The fact that yesterday can not be exhumed is cathartic for me, I can bury my failures under the veil of darkness, and make a few sacrificial adjustments in the morning. This year I decided to move away from deprivation, like Buddha, and towards a more pastoral approach to Lent, something that aligns with my defamed character. Failures can just as easily be turned around, what is not Lenten about being with those we love, breaking bread together, massaging our relationship. It’s all good. So I decided to adapt Lent for success, use the average utility days for fasting, even if it’s not Friday. Adopt a more malleable spirit for the rest, my goal is new life at the end of forty days, not so different from that of a pregnant woman. I vow to continue accosting my appetites, but I’ve added a twin, a penury spirit. Managing my hunger with a dose of humility will be a sacrifice, I’ll keep you posted.

“Clean and unclean birds, the dove and the raven, are yet in the ark.” Augustine

It thrills me to no end that Ozzie and Harriet return every year, arriving from some distant landscape, to nest in my beloved wisteria. Two fowl friends, who for me mark the beginning of spring, commingling with the rapture of Lent, as we both prepare for new life. They have weathered another year as spouses of nature, honorable, and kind to one another. I love to watch them gathering twigs, flying in and out of the arbor, forming a rustic haven for their young. They work in unison, with these staccato type movements, which means disconnected in Italian.

These birds are tireless in their efforts, creative, and resourceful, displaying a hidden strength that defies logic. I used to think changing the bedding was a disparaging chore, until I watched these birds carrying branches twice their size, and with uncanny precision create a perfectly rounded nest. All this without discernible boasting. On the other hand, I can’t make the bed with Larry without some minor agitation, “Honey, straighten the corner, pull that tighter, no, fold that down, oh dear god, just let me do it,” as I flutter about the sanctuary of our boudoir, dramatically adjusting the decorative pillows. 

“Fear not, are you not as valuable as many sparrows?” Matthew 10:31

My birds are loyal centurions, keeping a vigilant watch over their precious eggs, going long periods of time without food or drink. Their dedication is both inspirational and annoying. With exasperating industry, the squirrels and rats hover in the background, greedily eyeing the soft shelled eggs. I’ve been known to run intervention when the predators become too bold, I understand all too well the dynamics of appetite and temptation. At times I feel as connected to those eggs as I am to my own chicks, willing them to survive, waiting for them to break out of their protective shells, and learn to fly. 

My daughter is also nesting this spring with a set of twins growing unencumbered in her womb. They are identical, created from one cell, that was so overjoyed it split in two. We are over the moon with excitement. I am curious about twins. They are rare, like precious stones, a fluke of nature, a gift from God. I have no idea how we will tell them apart? Two sweet girls, identical, but each with her own soul. They’ve already captured my heart. Easter is her due date, I find that reassuring, and ironic.

But the two children struggled with each other in her womb. So she went to ask God about it. “Why is this happening to me?” she asked. And God told her, “The children in your womb will become two nations. From the very beginning, the two nations will be rivals. One nation will be stronger than the other; and your older child will serve the younger.” Genesis 25

Today I am content to rest in the nest of my thoughts, perched on the edge of spring, challenged, nurtured, and strengthened by this journey. Sometimes my anxieties stalk me in the wee hours of the morning, but this is the bed I’ve made, and eventually this is where I find rest. Something important is happening here, my heart is opening, I’m discovering my own strength in the vise of these ancient Lenten practices. Hunger and humility are my twins, inseparable, yet unique. I am laboring to bring forth my best self, it’s torture, but I’m toughing it out.

For the last two years I have been teaching a unit on Buddhism right smack in the middle of Lent. This philosophy appeals to me and somehow deepens the tenets of my own faith. Buddha teaches that nothing is permanent in this world and according to Thich Nhat Hanh (a Buddhist monk) attachment is the cause of all suffering. All of the dominate traditions have practices of fasting and abstinence, perhaps with the same intention, when we relinquish our disordered attachments we open up space for God. 

In my view, this wisdom only serves to deepen the sanctity of Lent, if only I had the dedication of my birds. I wonder if we will ever come to appreciate the many diverse traditions that bless our world? My favorite definition of sectarianism is belonging gone bad, by Clegg and Liechty. Thich Nhat Hanh said the world of no-birth and no-death (salvation for Christians) is not apart from birth and death, they are identical, of the same womb. In the gospel of Matthew it claims our many conflicts, are the beginning of birth pains,” as our world labors towards a more compassionate and peaceful demeanor, I remain hopeful, trusting in the messy process of new life. 

Do me a favor, join me in the comments, so I’m no longer alone with my thoughts.

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