“Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.” Maya Angelou
Have you ever spent time in total solitude? Listening intently to your inner voice?
Mine can be obnoxious, especially at night, in the dark, cocooned in my blankets, she berates me about all my faults and misgivings in a loud and clear voice, as if Oprah, or Margret Thatcher.
I lay there in a pool of anxiety and feel as if I’m drowning.
I hope I’m the only one that experiences this kind of nightly rebuking but I fear many of us live with feelings of fear, regret, and trepidation in light of our perceived or actual failings. The truth is we’re only expected to do one thing but of course we make it complicated.
From the day we are born we are called to extend the boundaries of our love. I know, I know, I hate that. I want to love a select few, because unlike all you do-gooders, my love has hard limits. I was born this way, there’s a strong gene that runs in my clan, and now I’m expected to deny my own DNA? I realize I’m fighting a losing battle but still I solider on.
If you’ve had any interactions with other broken human beings you know this to be a difficult task, impossible at times, but as luck would have it we don’t have to crawl out of this abyss alone, there’s a ladder, as if a penny option, one you have to exercise when given the opportunity, or it’s worthless.
Today is the day my friend, it’s Ash Wednesday, our Lenten kickoff so to speak, consider it a spiritual sport, designed to prepare ones heart for a remarkable opportunity that will be rolling out in a matter of 40 days. I know, inside trading, if you don’t get on board now, the ladder will be withdrawn, and you’ll be “treading in a pool of anxiety” for another year.
Let’s at least check it out, you never know, this could be a total coup.
Here’s the deal, you have 40 days of grim sacrifice, brutal reflection, and austere service, that’s it, no big deal. These practices offer you exclusive access to the ladder, as if a premiere lounge for frequent flyers, it’s totally climbable, and all you have to do is fly for the equivalent of 5 weeks.
Okay, glad we got that out of the way, now down to the nitty, gritty of this awe inspiring journey.
Our first objective is to explore the three tenants of ladder allocation, we’ll start with sacrifice, because that’s the one that scares me the most. Clearly I like my food, drink, and festivities. To understand exactly what I should sacrifice for 40 days, I have to get quiet, because I have replaced silence, and careful listening with a frenzy of texting, TikTok, Instagram, and tweets. It masks the clarity of divine wisdom, I get it all confused with my own voice, which by the way does not come with access to the premiere lounge.
I’ve created this private world dictated by my wants and desires, so figuring out what habits or practices I need to eliminate from my daily life is really not that difficult, because there are so many to choose from. Maybe it’s excessive eating, drinking, slothing, gossiping, judging, lusting, gambling, or an attitude in need of adjustment? Don’t try to knock all of them out at once, there is always next year, peel the onion, one layer at a time.
This year I’m tackling drinking, slothing, and attitude. We’ll save lusting and gossiping for next year.
What this means in practical terms is I’m going to forgo my habit of sipping wine, inactivity, and piss poor attitude for 40 days. Yikes, but don’t get your panties in a wad, because our lenten sacrifices extend from Monday to Saturday, Sunday is a day of rest! Sip, sloth, and grouse all you want. Alleluia. Truth be told, I’ve been known to consider Sundays moveable on occasion, which means I might have to relocate Sunday to a Tuesday if need be, I consider them furlough days, there are 4, use them wisely.
Please don’t judge me, I’m trying to help you, help me find the ladder.
Part two of ladder allocation has to do with prayer, reflection, or devotion to the will of God. See, I realize I’ve lost both of my readers at this point, total wimps! I encourage you to read on, because this part is actually rather hopeful, don’t be a stick in the mud.
God has many names, so if you’re belief prefers another title for this higher power, just substitute, because as most churches now acknowledge, including the Catholic Church, that love impels us towards a universal communion.
Papa Francesco in his recent encyclical Fratelli Tutti, says, “this need to transcend our own limitations also applies to different regions and countries. Indeed, the ever-increasing number of interconnections and communications in today’s world makes us powerfully aware of our unity and common destiny. In the diversity of ethnic groups, societies and cultures, we see the seeds of a vocation to form a community composed of brothers and sisters who accept and care for one another regardless of race, religion, and creed. As Jesus told us, “you are all brothers and sisters.” (Mt 23:8).” Fratelli Tutti.
So this one is really a bonus, I set aside time each day when I can be alone, sit in reverent silence, waiting for the often obscured voice of God to find me. Reading scripture calls me into the sacred narratives, after marinating in the scriptures for a span of time, I’m more flavorful, salty if you will. So pick up your holy book and read a few pages.
As you know I like to write to figure things out, so a wonderful practice during your time of silence is to write down the thoughts that come to you, who knows, it might turn into a blog?
The last obstacle to the ladder of personal freedom is charity, without it we may claim to be virtuous, but we are actually empty, devoid of compassion, and empathy. “No one can experience the true beauty of life without relating to others, without having real faces to love. This is part of the mystery of authentic human existence. Life exists where there is bonding, communion, fraternity; and life is stronger than death when it is built on true relationships and bonds of fidelity. On the contrary, there is no life when we claim to be self-sufficient and live as islands: in these attitudes, death prevails,” Fratelli Tutti.
You might ask what exactly do I mean by charity?
This is the deal, it’s so comprehensive, anyone can find a way to give.
We have some dear friends who live in Napa Valley, they’ve been volunteering their time and money to the Agape Program, which helps feed the poor, the hungry, the disenfranchised workers in the region. This is not exclusive to Napa Valley, there are charitable programs all over our country that are in need of volunteers, resources, and funds.
There is an expression that exists in Latin, benevolentia, “this is an attitude that wills the good of others; it bespeaks a yearning for goodness, an inclination towards all that is fine and excellent, a desire to fill the lives of others with what is beautiful, sublime and edifying.” So feel free to donate or volunteer in pursuit of benevolentia as part of your journey.
Last year I donated to a charity that provides clean water to communities deprived of this resource, here’s a link to several foundations, and here. There is so much we can do! I have a cousin that houses and protects the honey bee, another that supports the Diabetes foundation, and a close neighbor who started a foundation to research and develop treatment for Gaucher Disease. If there is a cause that touches your heart reach out and find a way to support your passion for a better world. (Feel free to share information about your favorite charities/causes in the comments)
Pope Francis reminds us in Fratelli Tutti that goodness, together with love, justice and solidarity, are not achieved once and for all; they have to be realized each day. It is not possible to settle for what was achieved in the past and complacently enjoy it, as if we could somehow disregard the fact that many of our brothers and sisters still endure situations that cry out for our attention.
This is our opportunity to climb out of the abyss and onto a more gratifying plane of existence. The word agathosyne is Greek, it expresses attachment to the good, pursuit of the good, even more, it suggests a striving for excellence and what is best for others. When we emerge from our arduous journey we’ll be ready to begin anew, to pursue a life based on love and compassion for ourselves, and others.
Today is the day, the first day of Lent, and all I have to say is who will be ready to celebrate our new hearts on April 3rd?
I’ll bring the wine!
I’m Living in the Gap, big into denial, join me in the comments.
This is one of my favorite stories in the scripture. I can read it over and over again, always finding new meaning and hope. Sometimes I am the Good Samaritian, but most often I am the one battered on the side of the road, or the bystander that walked around the one in need in pursuit of my own desires. I post it here for your perusal.
“Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.’ And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’ But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’ Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’”(Lk 10:25-37).