On Giving Up Fear For Lent

Today I went and got ashes.

I looked Rowena in the eye as she made the smudgy sign of the cross on my forehead, saying , “From dust you came and from dust you shall return.”

I am not a Christian. I lost faith in all that a long time ago, but I must confess I still like a little ritualized discomfort. (I smile remembering all my Lenten “givings up” as a child, some of  which were pretty hardcore.)

When I realized today was Ash Wednesday, and Rowena texted that she might be a little late for our meeting because she was distributing ashes at a service at the University (Rowena is an Episcopal priest), I texted her, “Would you put ashes on me if I came??

She replied: “Of course.”

So I went.

I’ve been reading Brené Brown and Amanda Palmer lately and wishing I had the courage to be more like them, to risk vulnerability like they describe, and do.

Even before going for the ashes, though, I had decided to give up fear for Lent. Not all fear, just a small subset: The fear of writing and sucking at it.

I liked  the prospect of the ashes, especially administered by my friend, as the perfect  ritualized sealing of my intention.

As I walked home in the biting February wind, my hat covering the blotch of dirt on my forehead, I felt the energy shift in my body, just like I used to feel in all those childhood Lenten years.

We are born of ash and return to ash, that is certain. All we have is the interval between, to live with as much courage and vulnerability as we can muster.

I am going to try to be here every day for the next 40, giving up fear for Lent.




Lent, Mallo Cups, and the Resistance Monster

Raise your hand if you ever gave up candy for Lent.

(My hand did not go up.)

But even still, I always find myself craving Mallo Cups this time of year because every kid in my Catholic school gave up candy for Lent.  And Mallo Cups were the big Lenten sacrifice.

We were told we should give up something we really LOVED for Lent, and for most of the kids I hung with that was candy.

Not me, though.  I took this Lent thing to a whole new level of suffering and austerity because I secretly liked Lent.  Lent was a dark, minor key kind of time on the liturgical calendar, and I was a sad, minor key kind of a kid. I actually liked it when the statues got draped in purple and there were Stations to go to every Friday.

So instead of Mallo Cups I gave up my pillow for Lent. Because even back then, I loved my sleep, and all the accoutrements of sleep: fluffy pillows, quilts, nice sheets, etc.  So I put my pillow under my bed for Lent and slept on my mattress for 6 neck-kinking weeks. And to make it even more painful, I also short-sheeted my sleep time by getting up at 5 and walking to 6 o’clock Mass every morning. And as if that hair shirt wasn’t itchy enough, I put little stones in my saddle shoes so my feet would bleed as I walked  After all, if Jesus could hang on the cross for me, it was the least I could do. Right?

(I needed serious counseling.)

Yessiree, I made those Mallo Cup giving-up kids look like total pussies.  (They, of course, had no idea I was doing this, or I would still be eating lunch by myself.)

But here I am, decades later, on the eve of Lent, still thinking about what I might give up for the next 6 weeks.

Turns out I don’t get into pain and suffering the way I used to. And self-flagellation? Eh. Over-rated.

What I am thinking of giving up this year year is my resistance to doing stuff I want to do, but because of some strange virus in my operating system I can’t bring myself to do.

That make sense?

Like this blog. When I write here regularly I feel good. I especially like going back into the archives and looking at what I was obsessing about a year or 2 ago on a given date. But when I go back and I didn’t write, I’m disappointed. I think when you start something like this, you ought tend it.  Or else kill it humanely and be done with it.

So I’ve decided that this year for Lent I am giving up not writing here. For the next 6 weeks I am going to put the stones in the saddle shoes, as it were, and just post something everyday.  It will take courage to vanquish this ugly little resistance monster who has been sitting like a threshold guardian at the gates of Wordprss, pointing and laughing at me, telling me I don’t have anything to say.

Mardi Gras Buddha Dog