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A Grateful Lent

Spiritual Smart Aleck

Lent is upon us. It is a Christian season of the year, forty days and nights, not counting Sundays, marked by prayer, fasting, and self-examination, with the intended purpose of repentance and improving oneself, one’s behavior, and the practice of one’s faith.

Lent ends with Holy Week and Easter. By that time Christians need a nice nap.

I’m giving some thought to the shape of my Lent. How shall I fast? What shall I give up? Some people give up chocolate for Lent and let it go at that. My friend Linera said at church last Sunday that her mother always gave up watermelon for Lent. They lived in Seattle, so that might not have been much of a stretch.

Giving up things for my own good does not come easily or naturally to me. The thought of giving up chocolate makes me want to go grab a couple of chunks out of my chocolate stash to calm my nerves.

So, how can I improve myself? Don’t all talk at once.

There is definitely room for more prayer and meditation. There is room for paying attention. Paying attention is difficult for me. Oh look a squirrel.

It is easy to space out. My mother called it wool-gathering, and blamed it on the Litchfields. Wool-gathering is not the same thing as silent contemplation. I think of silent contemplation as intentional listening, and again, paying attention to whatever I am missing.

Paying attention brings up lot of things of which I am unaware: The ringing in my ears. Not as loud and annoying as it sometimes is. Sweet. The dog woofs once. A crow caws in the distance. The clock on the wall makes a ticking sound which I find soothing. The heater is clicking randomly as it is either cooling off or heating up.

Thoughts creep in: It’s almost time to go to rehearsal. I have to eat something before rehearsal. Maybe some chocolate.
I’m lousy at meditating. I suspect most people are when they start out. I’ve been trying for years and still feel fairly lousy at it, but as I often say, I’m doing the best I can, and what I can do makes a difference.

I was thinking today I might give up woe for Lent. Hah. If only it was that easy, but perhaps I could be more intentional about being grateful, for waking up in the morning, for the love of friends, and family. For chocolate. By golly, I am grateful for chocolate.

It insults our visceral sense of right and wrong to try to be grateful for everything – we want justice and we seldom see it - but I see gratitude as a way of embracing all of life, not a denial of the evil things that have happened and will continue to happen.

You have to walk yourself through all the thoughts that result from this radical intention to be grateful.

Am I to be grateful that I am a widow? Are we to be grateful for the misfortunes that befall us, our children, our friends, or strangers? The first responses to misfortunes are usually grief and rage, and don’t give me that “be grateful” garbage.
So how about this: no, I am not grateful to be a widow, but I am grateful for the miracle of waking up in the morning. I’m grateful to be here still to feel all my joy and pain. I am grateful to remember Rick and what an exceptional human being he was, and tell stories about him to my children and my grandchild. I am grateful that I can still open my mouth and sing and people will feel pleasure from that, and that I can write things that make people laugh, or think.

That is, I am not grateful for the destructive things that have befallen me in this life, but I am willing to use that crap for compost. I am grateful to be here overcoming lasting effects. I cannot change the fact of my misfortunes, but I am grateful that I can persist in working to be whole. I am grateful for the moments when I laugh with friends, or have a great conversation.

I do walk with a limp, physically and emotionally, but by God, and I mean that sincerely, I am still walking, and I am grateful for that.

It’s Lent and I’m practicing gratitude. I know it will be an uphill slog some days, but that is life, and I am grateful for life. And chocolate, of course.