Posted by: M.C. | 4 February 2010

The pause that refreshes

This has been a serenity-challenging several weeks for my wife and me. From our baby’s first ear infection to a dead battery on one car and a dead clutch on the other to piles of grading and piles of snow and ice to the final straw when I dropped off the rental car at the local airport today: me in handcuffs sitting in the backseat of an airport security SUV because I share a first name, last name, and birthdate with someone who once did things he wasn’t supposed to do in Missouri. This happened to me once before, so I knew it would be straightened out in a few minutes (as it was), but piled atop everything else, and mixed in with my waiting to hear about two job applications, it just about did me in.

Fortunately I was in the college chapel earlier in the day and I came across a pamphlet of meditations on Lent by the late Roman Catholic priest Henri Nouwen. Until then, I had forgotten that Lent is approaching in the next few weeks, and I remembered that it may be my favorite time of year in all the religious calendar.

I know that others have less fond impressions of Lent. To many it represents denial (What will I give up this year?), or rather how one can walk the line between pseudo and sincere denial (What can I give up that I won’t really miss but that will still “count”?). As I child, I often felt the same way. But somewhere along the line I began to think of Lent as being less about denial and more about something I see as the heart of spirituality: preparation. Lent is less about making room through denial and more about what we make room for.

So often we have so much to attend to, so many obligations, so many demands. I know I do. And serious spiritual thought has a hard time competing with the insistent demands of a 20-month-old. Or course planning. Or the oil change that’s several months or several hundred miles overdue. But Lent reminds me that attending to the spiritual matters, that being the person I want to become first requires that I release the tasks and attitudes that I have let fill up my life and distract me. Lent is that time of year when I make pausing a habit, when I build it into my week and even my day. Adrift as I am now in a professional sense, and in the sense of having no religious home at the moment, the idea of (re)building spiritual structure in my life warms me, soothes me.

In two weeks, Ash Wednesday will be here. Tired but hopeful, I watch it approach and already the influence of its calm.

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