Today is Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent.
When I was growing up Southern Baptist, we did not observe the liturgical calendar. In my mind, Lent was one of those strange things Roman Catholics did that seemed to involve lots of eating fish.
I didn’t become aware that there was any more to Lent (or any other season in the liturgical calendar) until I was an adult and chose to become Episcopalian. Perhaps because I came to it as an adult, I have found the observe of the liturgical seasons to be a rich source of meaning. It’s a time to focus on different modes of being in a special way.
Lent is a season of penitence, a preparation for the celebration of the resurrection at Easter, which marks the end of the season. Despite my resistance to an over-emphasis on how sinful we are (because it’s been such a handicap for me in my own growth), I have a particular fondness for Lent.
It’s a quieter, more subdued season. It emphasizes thoughtfulness and introspection and self-analysis. It encourages the development and practice of spiritual disciplines. It fits my personality well. (Perhaps even more so this year because of my current circumstances … but that’s another post.)
The thing is, despite my fondness for the season, Ash Wednesday always catches me by surprise, and I discover that the start of Lent is upon me without me having chosen my own personal method of observance for the year. It is traditional to give something up, but it’s a time for adding something new (particularly a spiritual discipline of some kind). I have tried both in different years and found each one to be meaningful in its own way when chosen thoughtfully with good intent.
Once again I found myself suddenly realizing last night that the season was upon me without a choice being made. This year, I’m already in the midst of making so many changes to my diet, my sleep schedule, various self-care and spiritual disciplines, and in my physical activity as a result of my attempts to mitigate my depression that it was hard to decide what to choose a Lenten discipline.
I finally decided that I would add one listening practice as a daily observance to help me focus on what my intuition is trying to tell me, and to focus on daily on shifting away from judgment (of self and others) and towards grace and curiosity (toward self and others). The listening practice is an easy one to measure and make sure I observe consistently; the attitude shift is one that I already know I will forget and need to bring myself back to many, many times a day. I may never have a day where I reach the end of the day having gotten it completely right. (In fact, it’s highly likely that I won’t!)
But I think there may be more value for me in learning to observe this practice imperfectly and needing to bring myself back to start over again and again than in any activity that would be simpler to measure and mark off on my daily to-do list. Not only will I be slowly learning to shift my attitude, I’ll also be learning patience with my own imperfection.
Fortunately, I have that other daily exercise that I can check off my to-do list each day to encourage me to keep going on those days when my imperfect observance of non-judgment is wearing me down. (I’ll need that encouragement boost big time when trying something this big!)
This should make for an interesting season, though. I’ve never tried to give up an attitude or way of thinking before. We’ll see how this goes. Day one has already shown me that I have a lot of work ahead of me …
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