Monday, March 31, 2014

Content in the wilderness

So we've made it through four weeks of Lent. How are you doing?

Have you slipped on a Friday and eaten meat? I totally did that just this last Friday (although it wasn't actual meat; I'd forgotten egg-drop soup uses chicken broth. I was halfway through the bowl before I remembered). Are you just absolutely yearning for what you've given up, (you can have it on Sundays, remember. I have had little bits of cheese) or are you at the point where you no longer crave what you've offered as your sacrifice this year?

More importantly, though, have you made a real journey of the soul?

I have this sense that's hard to put into words, but in a way, this Lenten season is changing me more than others in the past have done. And it's not the giving up cheese that's had anything to do with it. I renewed my Marian consecration, the completion of which, this second time around, just gave me this amazing sense of peace. As I went through the 33-day preparation for the consecration (which started before Lent began), I was asking for the grace to let go of things, people, I've held on to, or if God's will for them to be in my life. I don't know that I've let them go entirely, but I certainly am more open to God's will being done with less clingy about these things my mind wants to grasp.

I know that probably makes little sense to you.

But I've also, as Lent has progressed, tried to give myself more silent time just talking to God. When 2014 began, I adopted St. Alphonsus Liguori as my patron for the year, and I've been reading some of his writings. Last week, I read this:

"Finally, if you wish to please the loving Heart of your God, try for as long a space of time as you can to converse with Him, with the greatest possible confidence; He will not fail to answer you and even to speak with you Himself. Not that He will make audible sounds strike your ears, but He will answer in words that you will clearly understand in your heart, insofar as you leave conversation with creatures and try to speak with your God -- you alone with him alone: 'I will lead her into the wilderness: and I will speak to her heart (Hosea 2:14).'"

That last verse from Hosea stopped me when I read it. There is a reason why I am where I am now -- where we all are. And I know I forget, sometimes, even when I am silent, to talk to God. I can become so caught up in my own stresses and grievances, in my daydreams or thoughts of the past, or even fill the silence with other distractions -- reading, although I love it and it is a good thing of itself -- to really listen, or to ask for God's help and to rest in His grace. Things my not be as I'd wish them to be, but I am trying to be more content in the wilderness.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Fictional fervor

So it's a rainy, grey day here in Florida, and I'm sitting at my desk at work, drinking tea, and ostensibly writing a school board budget story. All my calls have been made, and I am picking at it in a desultory fashion, but my head (heart? both?) isn't in it.

Maybe it's just me (or is this a trait many writers -- or we of the overactive imagination -- posses?), but I can see one characteristic of a person, just one, and suddenly there is a character in my head. It doesn't happen all the time, but it did today.

Earlier this week, in editing a columnist's copy, there was a name that struck me as just completely fictional (although this man had lived, and was later killed in WWII). I immediately knew who the made up person was: he was Southern and possibly of French extraction, cultured, living in the early teens or 20s. Names do that to me, too, and I'm forever scrawling down interesting ones to be used for characters later (although I rarely do; finding the scraps of paper with random names on them, sometimes years later, can be amusing...or frustrating, in the "why-didn't-I-do-something-with-that?" vein).

So today, when a new coworker walked down the hall, his manner of walking -- in a loping, somewhat stoop-shouldered gait -- suddenly fit with this person in my head. I was halfway into scrawling a full-blown character study on the closest reporter's notebook -- two and a half pages filled, before I'd even realized it -- how he walked, what he wore (light colored suits, even in winter), the color of his eyes (green); there he was, like Athena from the head of Zeus.

I used to have these sorts of creative writing spurts far more often than I do now, so I feel little guilt for taking the time (besides, my boss has always said she doesn't care if we go to the movies in the middle of the day, provided we turn our copy in on time. And no, she's not kidding). Now I should make sure to do something with it, unlike times before.

And finish the school board story...

Monday, March 10, 2014

Lent and mortality

Blessed first week of Lent!

At Mass yesterday, Father said something in his homily I didn't quite expect. He said, "Lent is a time to think about your own mortality."

I'm not trying to be all morbid on a Monday morning (because Monday's are hard enough!). You also might be thinking, "Well, yeah, of course Lent is a time to think about that. Don't we start off with 'You are dust and to dust you shall return' on Ash Wednesday?"

And we do. But after Father said it, I realized I don't spent much time in Lent reflecting on the end of my days on this earth. To start off with, I think about what I'm giving up (this year, it's cheese). Then there's the remembering not to eat meat on Fridays, of course. Mostly, though, I just go about my day as usual, perhaps with a few extra prayers thrown in. I'm certainly not thinking about death. I have my usual preoccupations with work, daydreams, and errands I need to run.

I don't think Father meant that we're to think about it constantly, though. No one really likes to think about death. We all have things we want to accomplish in life, and the idea that we might not reach certain milestones is frustrating. Death is also a separation from those we love, and as anyone who has lost someone knows, that can be very painful, even if we have faith in the Lord. But for Christians, death is also a journey TO someone we love, to Christ and his love, and that is the reason we should have no fear.

We'll hear it later in Lent during this reading from 1 Corinthians 15: 55-57. “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."

One day, our life on earth will be through. But we will go to a new life in Heaven, eternal life, won for us by the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Lent is part of that journey, about preparing our hearts for both the Resurrection at Easter, and for the day we will meet God face to face. 

You might be wondering about my Lenten sacrifice. Why cheese? I hadn't given up a food in a while, and I both love and eat lots of cheese. Although at first I was contemplating doing way too much: going to daily Mass, upping my at-the-moment negligible gym attendance to every day (ha!), giving up buying books, adding more spiritual reading to what I'm already doing, donating extra money to charities.

But we're not supposed to go overboard. Our sacrifice, while supposed to be something we will miss, is also meant to be manageable. And while not eating cheese for 40 days may seem silly, it's making me think consciously about what I'm eating -- something I haven't been too good about lately. Much of my snacking involves cheese, and I use cheese in recipes and on sandwiches without thinking. On Fridays, when we abstain from meat, I'm even more conscious of it now, since I can't just make macaroni and cheese or a grilled cheese sandwich. I came thisclose to eating baked ziti at a baby shower on Saturday, the heaping spoon of cheesy pasta poised over my plate, before I remembered...

As for those other things I mentioned first off, I am trying to do some of them. It's ok to change your Lenten sacrifice if what you decided initially isn't working. And don't beat yourself up if you slip. We're human.

Also, if you're looking to add something to your Lenten journey in the short term, today begins the Novena to St. Joseph. You can join it here: