One day in Lent went like this: another scattered stupid day of laundry, a crazy amount of mediocre cooking, bad feelings about myself and my negligible achievements, and attempts to pull myself out of self-absorbed self-criticism. Scurry, scurry, worry, worry, and meta-worrying about worrying. Tiring.
I got simple things done – a haircut, but only after wasting inordinate amounts of time surfing the web for “flattering haircuts for older women,” printing some images, doubting, looking for signs, irked at having to make all these decisions myself without clear divine commands. (Maybe the command I didn’t hear was, “Is this really important? Please live with more gratitude and now-ness.”)
That night, trying to decide whether to add doing a textbook to my list of tasks, I went to a Taize service at a local Church, a ritual I got into last year with my friend, Marilyn. I love to watch the candles, flickering as if they have a soul. Sitting in the dark, the computer well out of reach, I try to spare thought for others, think about Jesus in Gethsemane. Up above the altar, a big, round stained-glass window shows that scene, idealized. Why, I wonder, is Jesus’s face raised to the sky in prayer? Why that posture? Wouldn’t his head be down on the stone in agony and pleading? Around him are brilliant reds like chili peppers, and stunning blues. Closer to the congregation, two white lambs stand guard, one proudly holding a denominational banner, apparently with its leg. I wonder (but not in a harsh way) why martyrs need clean robes and how lambs can super-proud without dirt on their wool. Is this representation of myth an acknowledgment that daily life has so many dirty clothes and animals acting like animals? What would it be like if the lambs in church looked real, silly and fearful with maggots in their tails? What if Jesus looked like an everyday person in a country under occupation? Maybe we would find it hard to hope; maybe we’d resent being reminded of the world too much around us.
I believe in the value of ritual. Though not Catholic, I like to observe Lent in an interfaith way: a little bit of Ramadan for solidarity with the poor, a little bit of Judeo-Christianity for depth in simplicity, a little bit of Native American enlightenment through solitary retreat, a Jungian belief in the balance of feast and fast. In an unorthodox way, I decided to try out the experience of relinquishing several needless things during this period between Mardi Gras and Easter: candy was the first thing. For years, I never ate candy and somehow I’d started eating it regularly. The second thing was crabby negativity, a lifelong habit. You can guess which one was easier to give up.