Category Archives: Lent

Take lots of little steps. Then…leap!

It’s Leap Day.

This morning I found myself running into an unending string of encouraging words on Facebook, telling me to do something special today. Yes! That’s wonderful stuff, being encouraged to seize the day. Except, please, would some of you mind coming back tomorrow? With the same message, and enthusiasm. And, um, the day after that. Could a few of you–what the heck, let’s just map out March! I mean, if it isn’t too much trouble.

Each of those days, will only come once. Too many of them pass by without my noticing.

The sun has set where I am. Was there much of a sunset, or were the skies covered in clouds? It rained most of the day. I noticed that. And it warmed up, too! Did the sun come out as well? I don’t know. What about where you are?

What I love most about Leap Day, is the way it allows us to acknowledge that something we use every day is imperfect. Our calendar is close, but if we didn’t add a leap day every four years, eventually we’d really have Christmas in July! Isn’t it interesting that people never complain that no one has “fixed” the calendar? Or that the calendar is “broken?” We don’t worry about it. We don’t fret. Not, at all. We use it as it is, and adjust as we go. Across the globe we’ve agreed, if the year is 365.2425 days long that’s good enough to live by!

Today, a friend shared this quote with me,

“Take all the time you need to heal emotionally. Moving on doesn’t take a day, it takes lots of little steps to be able to break free of your broken self.” ~Theresa

I don’t know Theresa, but I think she’s wise. Breaking free of our broken selves, takes many little steps. Mostly, I think, breaking free is as much about accepting and owning your flaws as anything. Loving them even, because they’re part of you. Owning them so much that you forget to worry about them, the way we never think to make the calendar a concern.

Another thing I love about Leap Day is that it repeats. One adjustment isn’t enough. Correcting course is an ongoing process. That’s also one of Lent’s gifts. Yesterday, in a moment of weakness, I ate a piece of chocolate. I rationalized that I was eating the cookie for the coconut and the caramel, not the chocolate. The cookie was a Girl Scout Samoa/Caramel Delite. All right. I’ll admit it. It took two to get me back on track. They are so good. Once the taste of chocolate lingered, as it did, I remembered why I was giving it up. I. Love. Chocolate. I didn’t bash myself, I put the cookies away. I was off task (they’re a reminder to follow my plan for the day). I know where the box is. I know there are more cookies. I’m not going to have one. I won’t even have .2425 of one. I will take my little steps, and adjust as I go. When I’m ready? Then, I’ll leap!

Ten Seconds And Grace.

I think the video is its own measure of Grace.  If you’d like to read more about Mr. Rogers, and this moment, you’ll find a wonderful piece here. I found the video via this story in Mental Floss.

Possibility. What’s Growing Inside You?

Yesterday in a conversation a friend said, “Been there. Done that. Got the t-shirt.” The turn of phrase works as a way of conveying, “yes, I understand you.” In this case I was left thinking. Which part of what had already been said was my friend responding to? Later I wondered what we miss when we reduce experience, instead of sharing it.

Every morning when we wake, we make choices. A husband rolls over in bed and kisses his wife. He is choosing the marriage. Your child walks into your room and says, “Mom, I’m hungry. What’s for breakfast?” Maybe you ask for a moment, because you can’t think until the smell of “good morning” coffee drifts through your home. You make breakfast (or delegate it to an older sibling). In both cases, you choose to parent. You go to work, to the job you have. Typically you don’t think about these events as decisions you’re making, not really. You just make them. After a while you recognize a sameness to each morning. To each day. There’s comfort in that.

There’s loss, too, when we move through our mornings and miss the wonder that’s present. Your spouse is choosing you, as you are her, even if she just rolls-over in response. Your children start the day with expectation, because you’re good at the thing no parent ever believes, being their parent. You go to work because it gives you life, or gives you the income you need to live.

What if we recapture some of the wonder? Imagine the possibilities. What follows is excerpted from Robert Fulgum’s blog. Here’s to breaking through the sameness of the day, and finding wonder. Here’s to possibility. What’s growing, inside you?

I remember . . .
Kindergarten . . .
Little white paper cups with a cotton ball inside.
And some water.
On top of the cotton, a seed.
The cups were placed in a cookie tin.
The tin was placed on the window sill in the winter sun.
Above the steam heat from the radiator.
And we waited . . .
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday . . .
And waited . . .
Thursday, Friday . . .
And over the weekend, while we were not watching, the miracle happened.
By Monday the seeds had cracked and something white was reaching down while something green was reaching up.
A tiny plant had come to life.
WOW!
I still remember . . .

It’s been a long time since I did the seed-in-the-cup drill.
But I did it again on Friday.
A brown ceramic tea-cup, a cotton ball, water, and two nasturtium seeds.
On a south-facing window sill to catch the sunlight.

Like a gambler throwing dice at a craps table I shouted at the seeds,
Come on, baby, do it for Bobby!
Bobby needs Spring!

(Saturday afternoon.)
Peering at the two still-inert seeds through the magnifying glass, I see nothing. No sign of life.
know it’s in there.
But so far, nothing’s happening.
I am impatient.
Come on, come on, come on – do it!

(Sunday morning.)
Nothing . . .
Maybe they’re not seeds – just little rocks after all – I’ve been scammed.
Maybe I should try a new batch – raid my wife’s supply saved from last year.
Maybe I should open another packet of seeds.

I did buy nine packets. (Nine is my lucky number.)
I have California orange poppies, a morning glory mix, blue corn flowers, three other kinds of nasturtiums, a mix of flower seeds to attract hummingbirds, and a mix to attract butterflies.
Enough to cover half the yards in the neighborhood.

The mixes never seem to work out and grow and bloom.
But I buy them because of their possibilities.
In my mind it is high summer and they are doing their job.
The yard is full of flowers and hummingbirds and butterflies.
When I open the packets and poke around in the seeds with my fingers, that’s what I imagine.

(Sunday afternoon.)
When I was a child my father often warned me that if I swallowed a seed – orange, watermelon, grapes – a plant would grow out of my nose and ears.
A harmless father joke, I suppose.
Little did he know how seriously I took the proposition.
Or how often I deliberately experimented with seed-swallowing.
And how anxiously I checked my ears and nose for signs of green sprouts.

The results were disappointing, of course.
But I attributed the failure not to my father’s mischief but to my choice of seeds and lack of information about how to fertilize them.
I even ate some dirt.
Yes, I really did.

Recall that every part of the nasturtium plant is edible.
So . . .

In tribute to my father’s sense of humor . . . in memory of my childhood hopes . . . in the firm belief that maybe I’ll get it right someday . . . and knowing that when it comes to matters of LIFE, anything can happen . . .
I ate three nasturtium seeds on Friday afternoon – just after I placed the other two seeds in the cup.
Maybe this time . . .

(It’s easy, actually – like taking a pill. Think of seeds as a diet supplement.
I popped them into my mouth, swallowed, and washed them on down with a glass of warm water. No dirt this time.)

As I was falling asleep that night, I laughed out loud.
“What’s funny, dear,” my wife asked.
“Wait and see,” said I, imagining the moment in a few days time . . .

“What’s that growing out of your ear, dear?”
“Part of a salad.”
“What?”
“Nasturtiums – just wait until they bloom!”

~ Robert Fulghum

Being Mindful Of Your Treasure.

“Where your treasure is, so will your heart be.” (Mt 6:21)

It’s a simple idea. What’s really important to you should be where you spend the bulk of your time.

What are those “most important” things?

Day to day, are they getting the focus they deserve?

Staying focused on what’s most important in your life, often means letting go of things that take your attention elsewhere. Today, spend some time thinking about your treasures, and what might be getting in the way of your ability to give your them the time and energy, they deserve.

Gracious God,
Help me to open my heart and take an honest look at my treasure, and what things might be getting in the way of it having proper place in my life.

Help me be open to you, the ultimate perspective-renderer, as you teach me how to live, and love.

Amen.

——–

Adapted from +3 Minutes for Lent. It is one of the resources on Facebook that I’m using to keep the season this year. Each day you’ll find a verse, a reflection that you can pace yourself through, and quiet music to listen to as you reflect. If you prefer, you can have their reflections sent to you, via email. It’s lovely.

It really does all end.

“[O]ne of the things we are told when we receive ashes is, “Remember thou art dust, and to dust thou shall return.”  Ash Wednesday invites us to consider death, but not just for it’s own morbid and dark purpose…that’s what Valentine’s Day is for (har har har). Rather, Ash Wednesday understands that when we only think about life, we tend to think about what we want to do, our likes and dislikes, etc. When we think about life, we have the tendency to think about who we are.

But when we also consider death, we have a tendency to think about whose we are…that in the final analysis we belong to someone much, much larger than ourselves. When we also consider death, we are reminded that at some point, it really does come to an end, that life is indeed more than a bucket list. And in that knowledge, we are called to something larger in the way we serve and love God and in the way we serve and love one another.

But in order to remember whose we are, we need help. We need the reminder of the ashes. We need the reminder of the Lenten Season. And we need each other as a church community. . . . We need church so that we can get into the guts of these things called life and death. We need the support, insight, and love of the larger community as we all begin this Lenten journey. And of course, we need the love, insight, and support of the God whose we are so that we can live up to the other admonition we receive when we receive ashes: “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel.” ~ Tom Gibbons

Dust, And A Water Bottle.

“Dad? When are you going to die?”
“Sweets–I’m dying right now.”
“Daddy, you’re not dying!”
“Yes I am. A little bit every day. I’m certainly not growing.”

We were walking to school. I had reminded her that today was Ash Wednesday, and that at the service, ashes would be placed on her forehead as the minister says, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” The next steps were quiet ones.  Standing at the corner of a busy street, we waited for the traffic to clear. After we crossed, I broke the silence.

“If I’m lucky, I’ll live another fifty, or sixty years. That would be nice, don’t you think? I could watch you and your brother grow up, maybe get married and have kids…” Grandchildren and great granchildren. That would be cool. I felt myself starting to day dream as we walked. I could go with this, for a while. Sweets wasn’t about to wander with me.

“Dad! You’ll be over a hundred years old! That’s too old!”
“Is it? What if I don’t feel a hundred? When I was twenty-five, I would look at people who were thirty. I thought they were so old. Then I turned thirty and I felt like did when I was twenty-five. And you know what?”
“What?”
“The same thing happened when I turned forty. Isn’t that weird?”
“Yeah. But when you’re a hundred, I’ll be… fifty. That’s really old!”
“Thanks.” I shrugged my shoulders, feigning insult.
“Da-ad. You know what I mean. Besides, you’re not that old, yet.” She smiled. “Do you still feel like you’re twenty-five?”

We’d reached another corner. She checked for passing cars. “I don’t know,” I said. I thought about her question as we crossed the street. “Got it. I feel, thirty-five. And if I’m healthy when I turn a hundred, maybe I’ll still feel this young!” I smiled. I also saw an opportunity for a little teasing. “Hmm… If I feel thirty-five, maybe I should date someone in her thirties? Of course, if she really is in her thirties, she’ll feel like she’s twenty-five. That probably wouldn’t be good. Twenty-five is definitely too young.” I continued rambling until we reached the end of the block.

After we crossed, Sweets looked at me, cocked her head to one side and said, “Dad. You’re crazy.”
“I know. And annoying.”
“Especially when you dance.” We were both grinning. She, was serious. She skipped ahead and waited for me at the next corner. Cross that street and we’d arrive at her school. She checked her bag while she waited for me to catch up.
When I reached her, she asked me, “Do you have my water bottle?”
“Do you mean the one I asked you to put in your bag?”
She looked down, her hand was balled into a fist. “I hate when I do that! I always forget things. Always. Why can’t I remember?”

I wanted to help her reset. Sweets has high standards for herself. Sometimes I think they’re too high. I leaned forward, and put my hand on her shoulder. “Don’t blame yourself. I can get it. Things like this aren’t a big deal. They happen.”
She kicked the ground with her shoe. “I don’t like it when it does.”
“I know. Hey. I’m going to tell you something else about Lent.” She rolled her eyes, as if on cue. “Tonight the minister might also say, “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” We repent because we don’t always do things the way we’re supposed to. That can be about getting along with your brother, or doing the things your mom and I ask you to–”
“Dad, you really are annoying sometimes.”
“Yeah. I am. Listen, maybe Lent is about accepting that you’re not perfect, and realizing you don’t have to be. Do you want to remember things like your water bottle? Sure. But the idea that you can’t make mistakes? I think that’s the worst sin, ever.”
She reached forward and gave me a hug. “I love you, Daddy.”
I kissed her on the cheek, “I love you too, Sweets. Go inside. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

Lent’s Compass. Day 20: You’re Not Necessarily Who You Think You Are.

I am a particular incarnationalist. I believe that we can understand cosmic questions only through particulars. I can understand God only through one specific particular, the incarnation of Jesus of Nazareth. This is the ultimate particular, which gives me my understanding of the Creator and of the beauty of life. I believe that God loved us so much that he came to us as a human being, as one of us, to show us his love. ~ Madeleine L’Engle from an interview in Christianity Today, 1979.

A number of years ago several friends sat around and imagined things Jesus would never say. The list they came up with included such gems as:

– “Gimme that!”
– “OK, so you come out first and introduce me, then …”
– “Do I look fat in this?”
– “Comme ci, Comme ca” (with hand gesture)
– “If you really loved me you’d try harder.”
– “I’m disappointed with you.”

The list works because the statements are contrary to the person we read about in the Christian Bible. They don’t align with what he said, or how he lived. How many of us can say that? That our thoughts and words about how we should live or who we are are as people are in alignment with our actions? That they’re in alignment with the way we actually do live, every day?

One of the things I like about the Franklin Covey approach to managing time, is that you’re asked to spend time thinking about what your values are and to spell out what each value means to you. After that, you look at the relationship between what you value and the way you spend your time. You’re not asked to consider it once, but every time you plan. Once isn’t enough. To maintain alignment, you have to take stock again and again. That discipline is good practice.

You have to pay attention because it’s easy to lose track. It’s easy to think that the person we think we are and say we are and who our actions say we are, are the same. They’re not. We lie. We lie to others and to ourselves. A friend of mine said to me, “Do you know what I don’t like about Facebook? The way everyone seems to be living an extraordinary life, except me.” It’s not true of course. We’re all leading ordinary lives. What she’d noticed is the gloss that exists in Facebook posts.

The presence of some of the gloss is sometimes intentional. One Facebook friend loves to provoke arguments. To him, if it doesn’t spark controversy a post is boring. Some of the gloss is unintentional. Last year I went to my high school reunion. Several high school Facebook friends told me they look forward to seeing my cooking updates. Two more wondered when I joined the priesthood. I like sharing the meals I’m preparing. I’m deeply interested in the way people think what they’re supposed to do in this life. About vocation and also about the zen of being human. I didn’t think anyone would define me by those posts. Yet they did. It is also something I’ve done too. A friend mostly posts photos she takes. For a long time I thought she’d become a professional photographer.

It’s a short walk from believing the gloss we see on Facebook posts to missing the irony that happens when our actions move out of alignment with our thoughts or words. Before I started working as a coach and trainer, I ran coffee shops for Starbucks. I remember hearing a free-spirited member of my staff having a conversation with a customer about the evils of corporate coffee. She explained how she preferred getting her coffee from independent shops. She did that while working a shift for Starbucks. She was one of my top performers. This same woman enjoyed her job enough to spend chunks of her free time at Starbucks. She never let on that she was aware that who she thought she was, who she said she was and who her actions said she was, were different things.

When our thoughts and words and actions are out of alignment, our being changes.

Pay attention. Take stock. Are you the person you think you are?

Lent’s Compass. Day 17: Bonfires and Grace.

Fire By Fire

My son goes down in the orchard to incinerate
Burning the day’s trash, the accumulation
Of old letters, empty toilet paper rolls, a paper plate,
Marketing lists, discarded manuscript, on occasion
Used cartons of bird seed, dog biscuit. The fire
Rises and sinks; he stirs the ashes till the flames expire.

Burn, too, old sins, bedraggled virtues, tarnished
Dreams, remembered unrealities, the gross
Should-haves, would-haves, the unvarnished
Errors of the day, burn, burn the loss
Of intentions, recurring failures, turn
Them all to ash. Incinerate the dross. Burn. Burn.

~ Madeleine L’Engle The Weather of the Heart, p. 49.

The following story is excerpted from Robert Fulghum’s blog. The entry is dated March 8, 2011. Fulghum’s inner bonfire pairs nicely with L’Engles.

When I was a high school senior I smoked a cigar at school.
In the chemistry lab.
Lit it with a Bunsen burner.
And tried covering the smell by mixing up a batch of stinky chemicals.
The toxic orange smoke triggered the emergency fire alarms.
Students, teachers, and staff trooped out into playgrounds and parking lots.
Fire trucks appeared with sirens blaring.

Later, the principal used the public address system to call for information on who had been smoking a cigar in the chemistry lab.
Goodtime Bobby Fulghum played it cool and kept his mouth shut.

Wow! Wonder who the idiot was who would do something like that?

But word always gets around.
The look on the chemistry teacher’s face said she knew who the Who was.
But she didn’t say anything to me.
And neither did the principal, Mr. Ware.

Mr. Ware, a tall dignified man, was one of the finest men in our community.
Much respected by students, faculty, parents, and even students.
He addressed us with equal respect: Mr. Fulghum, Miss Brown.
Nobody wanted his disapproval.

But now I had single-handedly caused an all-out fire drill. Bad.
And didn’t own up to the truth when asked. Worse.
A crime and a cover-up.
But . . . somehow . . . I knew he knew.
And I was sure that he knew that I knew that he knew.
Because he always seemed to know about these things.

Next stop for Goodtime Bobby would surely be the principal’s office.

But a week went by without a summons to appear.
Meanwhile I began to beat myself up for what I had done.
There might have been an explosion.
The school might have burned down.
People could have been hurt, maimed, killed.
And I am such a gutless creep I won’t own up or apologize.
I deserve to be expelled, turned over to the police, beaten, branded, jailed.
I am thoughtless, stupid, worthless, a criminal loser.

It was a long, long week – and I hardly slept or ate.
When my parents asked what was wrong with me, I kept the lie alive.
Oh, nothing . . .

On Friday morning there was an envelope in my locker.
Inside on official school stationary was a handwritten note from Mr. Ware.
Mr. Fulghum, would you please stop by my office today?
Doomsday.
The end had come.

Reporting to his office, I sat in the waiting room for an eternity.
Rehearsing my confession, my apology, and my plea for mercy.

Finally, his door opened.
Hello Mr. Fulghum, please come in.
He shook my hand in greeting and offered me a chair.
He asked how I was and if I had been doing any thinking this week.
Well, yes, actually I had.
And I threw up the whole mess in a non-stop monologue – confessed what I had done, admitted how dangerous my actions were, and even suggested the severe punishment I deserved.
Finally I ran out of words and choked up with tears.

There was a painfully long silence before he smiled and spoke.
Mr. Fulghum, I respect you and the way you think.
Thanks for stopping by.

No lecture about crime and punishment.
No moralizing.
Just courtesy and respect.
Thanks for stopping by.

As I rose to leave, he said – and I still remember his words spoken to me fifty-six years ago:
By the way, Mr. Fulghum, it doesn’t matter what I or anybody else thinks about you and what you do. What you think about you is all that really counts. Think the best.

That’s all he had wanted to know – what I thought of me.
He chose to think well of me, and left the rest in my hands.
With an act of grace he resolved my disgrace.

I never forgot. . .

When Mr. Ware retired many years later, I sent him a box of cigars.

Lent’s Compass. Day Sixteen: The Unselfconsciousness of Humility and Flow.

When we are self-conscious, we cannot be wholly aware; we must throw ourselves out first. This throwing ourselves away is the act of creativity. So, when we wholly concentrate, like a child in play, or an artist at work, then we share in the act of creating. We not only escape time, we also escape our self-conscious selves. The Greeks had a word for ultimate self-consciousness which I find illuminating: hubris: pride: pride in the sense of putting oneself in the center of the universe. . . . The moment that humility becomes self-conscious, it becomes hubris. One cannot be humble and aware of oneself at the same time. Therefore the act of creating–painting a picture, singing a song, writing a story–is a humble act? This was a new thought to me. Humility is throwing oneself away in complete concentration on something or someone else. ~ Madeleine L’engle A Circle of Quiet, p. 11.

I’ve been sitting with this quote. I keep asking myself the same question. Could the virtue of humility as L’Engle describes, be closely related to the Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s flow state?

You are in an ecstatic state to such a point that you feel as though you almost don’t exist. I have experienced this time and again. My hand seems devoid of myself, and I have nothing to do with what is happening. i just sit there watching it in a state of awe and wonderment. And [the music] just flows out of itself. ~ A leading composer of American music

It was just one of those programs that clicked. I mean everything went right, everything felt good. . . It’s just such a rush, like you feel it could go on and on and on, like you don’t want it to stop because it’s going so well. It’s almost as though you don’t have to think, its like everything goes automatically without thinking. . . It’s like you’re on automatic pilot, so you don’t have any thoughts. You hear the music but you’re not aware that you’re hearing it, because it’s a part of it all. ~ An Olympic figure skater

How does it feel to experience flow?

1. Completely involved in what we are doing – focused, concentrated.
2. A sense of ecstasy – of being outside everyday reality.
3. Great inner clarity – knowing what needs to be done, and how well we are doing.
4. Knowing that the activity is doable – that our skills are adequate to the task.
5. A sense of serenity – no worries about oneself, and a feeling of growing beyond the boundaries of the ego.
6. Timelessness – thoroughly focused on the present, hours seem to pass by in minutes.
7. Intrinsic motivation – whatever produces flow becomes its own reward.

Lent’s Compass. Day Fifteen: Becoming An Icon To The Invisible.

It would be easier to be an atheist; it is the simple way out. But each time I turn toward that wide and welcoming door it slams in my face, and I–like my forbears–Adam, Eve–am left outside the garden of reason and limited, chill science and the arguments of intellect. Who is this wild cherubin who whirls the flaming sword ‘twixt the door to the house of atheism and me? ~ Madeleine L’Engle A Cry Like A Bell, p. 23.

This video reflection is from Peter Rollins 2010 Insurrection tour. It’s stuff to chew on.

To Doubt Divine from Peter Rollins on Vimeo.