Taking out the Trash, Ash Wednesday Edition

February 18, 2015 at 6:49 pm (Community, Faith) (, , )

“Do you like Lent?” my nine-year-old asked me this morning.

“Yes, I do,” I answered, and anticipating the inevitable ‘why,’ I continued. “I like it because it’s a time of year where it’s a little easier to focus on being a good person,” but he was already at the table with a mouthful of bagel and his eyes on the sports section.

My blog posting is testimony to the fact that I like Lent. One blog post a year, whether I need it or not! But I do like Lent. It’s not that I’m a particularly somber person I don’t think, but I like the exercise of stripping away the extraneous and focusing on the essentials. It’s the same reason I love going to the kids’ school masses, and doing children’s liturgy on Sundays. I like going back to basics.

A good friend of mine said to me today that she likes Lent way more than New Year’s resolutions. I know just what she means. Lent is a little like spiritual trash collection. You bustle around, getting your spiritual house ready for Easter and the Resurrection. This year, some friends of mine and I are going to try to declutter our homes as a part of our Lenten fasts. “40 bags in 40 days.” (I can probably come up with that just out of my basement). But as tough as it’s going to be to declutter my house – you should SEE my basement – it’s even harder to declutter my mind. To get rid of all of the things don’t serve me…fear, and pride, and anger, and judgment, and criticism, among innumerable others…Maybe I should try to get rid of 40 negative feelings in 40 days. 40 bad habits in 40 days? 40 sins in 40 days! Sigh. There’s a lot of room for improvement, but I have this community that helps me, and at the end of Lent, I’ll have so much space for love, and compassion, and kindness.

Meanwhile, I’m going to go tackle the coat closet. Happy Ash Wednesday, and a good Lent to you.


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Dialing Down the Crazy…a True Story of Ash Wednesday, Yoga and Gilbert & Sullivan

March 5, 2014 at 4:42 am (Faith, Kids) (, , , )

Aaaaaaaand it’s Ash Wednesday again – my blogiversary, and the beginning of perhaps my favorite church season, Lent. I was sort of stumped on what to write about, to tell you the truth, but determined to think of something since Ash Wednesday is evidently THE ONLY day I won’t let pass without a blog post, and phew! here it is. My annual post.

So at yoga, you can set an intention before you begin your practice. For me anyway, it makes my work on the mat a physical expression of prayer, like the dervishes, or the Shakers, except with incense and lycra. I often go through my mental Rolodex of friends and family before class or my own private practice, offering up my effort for the people I love best. (It’s interesting how it works…the two seem to dovetail until the person I’m praying for and the practice mirror or match each other. A while ago, I set one of my dearest friends who was going through a tough time as my intention, and the yoga was hard. Or I set my youngest child who radiates light as my intention, and the yoga was easy).

Anyway. I escaped to class last night by bribing my husband to take our son to violin, and getting take-out burgers for dinner. Before class began, I was thinking about who to pray for, and my oldest daughter popped into my head. I have some people on my list who ostensibly need prayin’ a whole lot more than she does, but thinking of her working on her book report at the dining table as I dashed through on my way out the door made me smile, so I offered up the class for her. For Riley, I said, closing my eyes and smiling as I stood at the top of my mat.

As class began, my teacher said we would work on backbends (boo!) and reminded us not to let our minds boss us around. Well, I’m paraphrasing, but her point was that while we need to respect and be compassionate toward our bodies and their limits, sometimes our brains put the brakes on way before they need to…and that frequently we are capable of more than we give ourselves credit for. She also pointed out that backbending, which is considered to aid the nervous system, can be intense, and can open you up to a lot of emotion.

If you know my daughter, a lot of that will seem pretty pertinent. And if you don’t, you can take my word for it. She’s nervous, she’s intense, she’s emotional, and she has a fiercely big brain which frankly, gives her a lot of guff.

That’s all very nice, you say, and kind of a cool coincidence, but what about Ash Wednesday? Patience, grasshopper. I’m coming to that part.

So my darling daughter has a problem with overreacting to things. Falling apart because she asked the wrong person for Fiddling Fernando in Go Fish for example, or exploding because her brother is being poky tying his shoes again. Actually, to be truthful, it’s us that have the problem with her overreacting. I don’t know. I think sometimes her gauge of what’s reasonable just needs to be rejiggered. We had a great conversation about it the other day, and we came up with the idea that I could just shoot a codeword at her, and then she’d know that maybe she was at DEFCON 1, when really 5 was all that was called for. and maybe that would pull her back from the emotional cliff.

And here’s where Gilbert & Sullivan come in. I got the idea from Ruddigore, a G&S operetta I was in in grad school. I played a character named Mad Margaret who is unhinged by lost love when you meet her in the first act, but who is (mostly) cured when she is eventually reunited with her soulmate, Sir Despard. Mags has the terrific idea that when she veers off course into CrazyTown, Sir Despard can pull her back by saying only “Basingstoke,” the name of a real town in England. I don’t know whether it’s crazy or not. I’ve never been. But anyway Riley and I now have our own version of “Basingstoke,” and I won’t tell you what it is, because that would defeat the whole purpose of the codeword.


And NOW I sew this all up together with Lent. I realized during yoga last night, mid-backbend, that Lent is our Basingstoke. Life is so bananas, batshit crazy most of the time for all of us that we LIVE on the edge of the cliff…but every year Lent rolls around again saying “Basingstoke!” which really means “yes, your schedule wants to eat you alive, and your children make demands on you and your parents need you and you’re neglecting friends and you’ve only gone to yoga a couple of times since your New Year’s resolution to go all the time, and you’ve blown several obligations and you didn’t see a single movie in the theater in the whole of last year, and you’re drinking too much and you’re eating crap and you gossip and you don’t have faith, but take a minute. In fact, take 57,600 minutes -that’s how many minutes there are in the 40 days of Lent – and do these three things: Pray. Fast. Give alms. Or put it another way if that’s too churchy for you: Reflect. Streamline. Love more.”

So this Ash Wednesday, that’s what I’ve got for you: Basingstoke. And maybe more yoga.

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Finding the “Pause” Button…

February 13, 2013 at 5:15 pm (Faith) (, , )

A couple of days ago, I posted on Facebook that I wished I could find the pause button. I was wishing I could have an extra day or two with no obligations, not to get everything on my “to do” list done, but to recharge. I was remembering life pre-kids, when it wasn’t unheard of for my husband and me to have a vacation together, or for me to have a day at the spa, or even just an afternoon at the movies.  I wanted, in the midst of our busy lives, a moment.  A breath.  A pause.

And now here we are again on Ash Wednesday, (also known as the day of my annual blog post) and Father’s homily at mass this morning made me realize that Lent is that pause button I was looking for.

Now I realize that for most people “day at the spa” is not the first thing we think of when we think of Lent. We think of ashes, and fasting, and giving up candy or something like that. And that’s not wrong, of course.  But if Lent is only that, I think we might be missing the forest for the trees. Why do we do all of that stuff?  Well, we’re told to, of course; during the season of Lent, we’re supposed to pray more, fast, and give alms.  That’s pretty clear.  But why?  “Because I said so…” doesn’t really work on my kids and frankly, it doesn’t really work on me.  I think ultimately, by fasting and giving something up, we’re trying to create a little space in our hearts…a little more room for God, for love, and for each other.

We sang “Again We Keep This Solemn Fast” this morning. My favorite verse is the third:

More sparing, therefore, let us make

The words we speak, the food we take,

Our sleep, our laughter, ev’ry sense;

Learn peace through holy penitence.

As I get older, I’m not so sure that denying ourselves is the point; rather it’s the tool that permits us to find some more peace and love in our hearts.  I’ve got myriad bad habits and distractions I could choose to give up this Lent, and an equal number of important things I should be doing that I’m not.  Rather than pick one of each, I’m going to try to do it all.  I’m seizing this chance to pause…this gift of 40 days to be “more sparing” and focus on what’s important.  I’m pretty excited about it actually, more excited than I would be for a day at the spa.  Don’t tell my husband though.  Valentine’s Day is tomorrow after all.

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Ash Wednesday, Take Four

February 22, 2012 at 10:08 pm (Faith) (, , )

Here we are at the start of another Lent, recognizable by these facts: it’s 3:20 pm and I’m starving with no hope of a meal for hours, and there is schmutz on my forehead. Blessed schmutz, even holy schmutz, but schmutz nonetheless.

There’s an ongoing debate for many of us on Ash Wednesday…to wash or not to wash the ashes off our foreheads? In the gospel reading today, Jesus was pretty clear. “Don’t perform righteous deeds so that others may see them.” “Don’t pray like a hypocrite.” “Wash your face.” (I’m not kidding. He actually said “Wash your face.”) Given the clarity of those instructions, why is there a debate you may well ask?

Well, I don’t know. But I’m not washing mine off and here’s why. I’m uncomfortable with them on, and I think we should be a little uncomfortable during Lent. A little hungrier in both body and mind, a little more conscious of our mortality, and a little more aware of our failings. If you’re leaving your ashes on so everybody knows you’ve gone to church and you’re a good, holy person, well, maybe go home and wash them off. If you’re like me, and you’re uncomfortable wearing your faith on your sleeve, maybe once a year you can do it anyway. Hence the schmutz.


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St. Therese of Lisieux and Why Yoga is Really Kind of a Catholic Thing to Do

March 9, 2011 at 10:50 pm (Faith) (, , , , , )

First, a couple of disclaimers.

One, I have no evidence that Saint Therese of Lisieux ever practiced yoga. In fact, I highly doubt that, growing up as she did in late nineteenth century France, Saint Therese had ever even heard of yoga, let alone extolled its benefits.

Two, until quite recently, I was not the biggest fan of the “Little Flower” as she is known. She seemed to me to be a little bit of a goody-two shoes, frankly (which admittedly is a funny thing to think about a saint) and a little too sweet and too holy for real life.

I’m kind of coming around on Saint Therese though, and yoga is partially responsible. Saint Therese is probably best known for her “little way,” a path to holiness through the ordinariness of daily life. Everything Saint Therese did, she offered up to God not just in prayer, but as prayer. This has real resonance for me, as I go through my day, putting away dishes, washing bathrooms, making the school run, etc. How beautiful to give meaning and heft to those mundane activities, to say to God as I vacuum, “Dear Lord, I am doing this in loving prayer for Henry – please heal his pulled groin.” What a better use for my energy than, “Ugh, I can’t believe I’m doing laundry AGAIN.” So lately I’ve been giving Saint Therese a second look. (She’s one of only three female “Doctors of the Church” – I don’t know, it might come up on Jeopardy.)

Now check out this program I heard on the radio about yogi Sean Corne. (There’s a video too, of her demonstrating “body prayer” which is incredible – her breath sounds like the ocean tides.) In the yoga classes I’ve attended I’ve heard any number of philosophies of yoga but I hadn’t ever heard anyone mention offering up one’s yoga practice for a specific intention before, as Sean does here, talking about offering up her practice for her dad who was battling cancer, or for a broader petition like healing the environment. I totally love the idea. It’s so Catholic and it makes such sense – it reminds me of Saint Therese and her little way.

So there you have it – yoga as prayer, scrubbing toilets as prayer. Prayers, prayers everywhere. Not a bad way to start Lent. Happy Ash Wednesday.

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Lenten resolutions, the remix

February 17, 2010 at 3:51 am (Uncategorized) (, , , )

Here we are again…another Lent. It has been almost an entire year since I started this poor little neglected blog, and I have the strangest feeling that I’ve been here before. And you know what? I’m delighted to be back.

Yet again this Lent my daughter has set the bar for herself very high, as she intends to give up “making faces at my brother and whining” and to try to “give my sister space when she needs it.” I’m not going to lie. Those are going to be tough resolutions for her to keep, much harder than giving up candy or something similar. I’m so impressed with her self-awareness though. Those are really good goals for her, and I can tell she really put a lot of thought into what she would give up this year. She brought home a worksheet from school where she laid out her plans, and I’ve put it up, where else, on the fridge as a helpful reminder for her.

Riley's resolutions

Riley's resolutions

It will be a helpful reminder for more than just Riley. It already has. As Riley told us what she would be giving up on the way home from school today, Henry got to thinking what he could do. He’s going to try to “let Riley read when she wants to…sometimes.” Also an impressive and challenging goal for a four-year-old who loves to play with his big sister. (Although I also appreciate Henry’s inherent pragmatism with that “sometimes.”) (!!!)

Anyway, once again I find myself really grateful for Riley, for her school and for the Catholic education she is receiving. I often love being the parent of a first grader. Things get stripped down in a way that is really profound to me, and nowhere more so than when we are talking about faith. Could you see the words on the worksheet? Among others: “During Lent we think about how to act. We try to change the things that keep us from being as loving as Jesus.”

I’m afraid I still haven’t figured out exactly what I’m going to do. (Needless to say, it won’t be giving up procrastinating). I could easily repeat last year’s “no real estate porn, no aimless computer surfing” to much benefit. Or there are innumerable other things I could both give up (complaining, gossiping, bickering) and do (mass more often, rosary-saying, more blog-writing, reflecting and praying). Whatever I come up with, I’m glad to have my goals for this Lent broken down into words a seven- AND a thirty-seven-year-old can understand.

Blessings to all of you this Lent.

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