Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday.
We begin the season of Lent, a time when Christians give something up or take something on for 40 days, for the purpose of drawing closer to God.
When I think about what I’m going to release or take up for Lent, I think about where I am building walls, pinning myself down, refusing to let go.
Where I am standing at a distance from God?
Where am I holding myself away from Light?
In years past, giving up chocolate made sense for me, as chocolate was a substance I used to numb, mute, comfort, and pseudo-love myself.
But this year, I already don’t eat chocolate.
I could give up something like coffee but…um…coffee does not separate me from God. At all.
Along with my parish, I’m committing to a period of silent meditation every day during Lent, but otherwise, taking on a daily practice doesn’t really work for me this year, since I’ll be traveling.
In my journal
A few days ago, I sat down with my prayer journal and starting thinking about where I build walls.
I thought about my tendency to second-guess what other people are thinking or feeling, how they are receiving or perceiving me, then subtly change what I’m allowing them to see about me as a result.
I thought about the slight yet distancing approval-seeking masks I wear.
And the times I hold back, stay quiet, or walk away instead of speaking my truth.
I wrote, When you’re second-guessing, you’re not in love.
I thought about my judgements and reactions, how many people I’ve hidden on facebook because I can not stomach what they’re saying, how much anger and disbelief and heartbreak I hold around what’s happening in this country right now.
And I thought about anxiety and worry and this camouflaged thing that lurks around the edges of my consciousness assuming the worst.
It tells me things like:
He looked at you that way because he hates you.
The “big one” is probably going to hit when you’re in L.A.
You’ll probably end up homeless.
I realize those sound extreme, and they are extreme examples, but they do turn up in my head.
I try not to entertain those thoughts, but they’re definitely there. Inside me. Just hanging out.
I looked at these things and searched them for a theme.
If I let go of these things, what would be letting go of exactly? Negativity?
That seemed rather large and vague.
Then I saw the common denominator, the source at the heart of each of these walls.
Fear of rejection, fear of disappointing, fear of losing love or community.
Fear of the future, fear of failure, fear of suffering, fear of losing life itself.
But how would I give up fear for Lent?
If it were that simple, we would all do it.
Then, I found this article.
What if, I wrote in my journal, Lent is a walk with the shadow?
What if I see Lent less as a time of penance and more as an opportunity to let the unwanted elements within me die?
letting things die
Lent is the most sacred time of the year.
I don’t want to do anything or say anything that trivializes Lent or makes it all about me and how I’m doing.
Lent happens regardless of how well I keep it.
But I do want to make only commitments I can keep and I want to make commitments during Lent that make sense, that help me draw closer to God, that are meaningful.
So this year, instead of selecting a thing - an object, a food, a whatever - and giving it up, I’m offering something up.
I can’t, after all, let go of fear.
I can’t decide not to experience fear, or even not to make fear-based decisions, because I’m rarely consciously aware of the fears that lurk beneath the surface.
What I can do, is offer it up and make myself available to the death of what no longer serves.
I can allow what is unwanted within me to die.
I can release my grip, breathe into my heart.
I can give this to God.
I will be entering into a period of silent meditation and stillness every day during Lent and I will be unfurl my heart and ask for the release of old patterns that hold me back, old patterns that build walls.
That’s my Lenten practice this year.
I hope to cultivate a more harmonious inner landscape, a harmonious inner environment, so that I will also perceive the outer environment as harmonious.
I hope for this, but who knows what will happen?
Who knows where this will lead me?
It’s a walk through the shadow, after all.
And I’m not the one in charge.
I’m the one in surrender.