So it's time to do a check in with ourselves and our Lenten promises. This year I gave up Facebook and alcohol. I'm almost surprised by how little I miss both of them (though I did sign on FB for the Solemnity of St Joseph and the Feast of the Annunciation. I was accused of being "that Catholic" which I think was meant to insinuate that I was "using" the feast days, but that was not the case at all! I was genuinely psyched about each feast and wanted to acknowledge them throughout the respective days. Oh, okay, and I suppose also wanted to share a few statuses and pictures ;)
I also committed to making "acts of faith" each day this Lent ie- moments and situations that I stop and offer up to God. This was inspired by the Therese book my prayer group was reading (mentioned in my previous posts). My spiritual director did question how I was going to keep track of this or gauge how I was doing with the commitment, so we decided I should also try to make an examen each night to think of the moments in which I did or did not hand over as an act of faith to God. I'm mostly conscious of this commitment, but I think Laetare Sunday is going to have to be a reminder to kick it into gear before Holy Week.
I'm sure I've mentioned this before, but I love when the unit that I teach on Exodus falls during Lent. The story of Exodus is such a good parallel and reminder of the Paschal Mystery (and coincidentally the other course I teach :). Today we were discussing the Exodus itself- Pharaoh finally releasing the people and then changing his mind to come after the Israelites. The Israelites were so overjoyed and amazed at the salvation of the Passover and finally being released from slavery (or bondage as the Charlton Heston classic "The 10 Commandments" uses repeatedly and for some reason the way they say it makes me giggle). But then they immediately begin to distrust when they've been in the desert for a while and the Pharaoh comes after them. My students and I today were talking particularly about the trust it must have took to cross the Red Sea- not knowing if at any minute the water would cease to be parted and crush them or if the Egyptians would reach them.
I am always struck and humbled by how we are like the Israelites- on board with God when things are going well, but then quick to turn on Him when things don't go our way. In my Paschal Mystery course, we talk about what it means to be "poor in spirit" and the textbook defines it as "poverty of heart" or "recognizing our great need for God."
These stories of Exodus and moments or acts of faith in our lives constantly show our "great need for God." The Passover and the Paschal Mystery (suffering, death, Resurrection and Ascension) are such amazing stories of salvation. I am particularly struck today for our need of salvation and in gratitude for the beautiful mercy and salvation God provides.
In finishing up our Therese book for women's group, I found this quote which I brought to prayer and our group this week: "Another attitude that purifies our heart thoroughly is gratitude. That is because it prevents us from getting tangled up in discouragement, sadness, withdrawal into ourselves, bitterness, dissatisfaction, discontent, etc.” Philippe, pg 112
I remember going to Confession once and my penance being to be grateful and make prayers of gratitude because all of my sins had been so selfish. We do withdraw into ourselves when we focus on what we are lacking rather what we have, and so gratitude can save us from ourselves.
I am particularly grateful for the stories and gift of Salvation mentioned in the salvific stories of our faith above. And I'm so grateful for my friends. My friends pull me out of myself and as I was looking around my women's group this week I was noting...they are all so NICE! All of my friends- in my prayer group or not- are all so giving and generous and I wonder sometimes what they possibly see in me, but they must see something! Or that just goes to show how nice they really are!
In addition to gratitude, my spiritual director in our last meeting reminded me again to call upon the Holy Spirit in this time of Lent. We don't often think about the Spirit until after Easter (50 days to be exact!) but it makes sense to call upon the Holy Spirit in times of doubt- in times where we need to make an act of faith.
Jesus gave the apostles the Holy Spirit in a time of great uncertainty for them. He had just ascended into heaven - aka left them to fend for themselves after three years of ministry- and the Holy Spirit was their gift and guide to help them. We, too, should call on the Holy Spirit in our times of doubt and uncertainty- that is what it is there for!
The Holy Spirit has certainly been there for me in some of my more confusing times. Pentecost is a special feast for me. And I've recently realized something else that has been there for me in times of uncertainty and this is much more....abstract (omg, I am SO SORRY for the puns this post!!!)
Specifically abstract art, I guess! I told you all I had signed up for an art class to keep myself sane this winter. Well, I've found it really helpful and necessary in my life right now for whatever reason, and I realized this is not the first time that the absurd in art has actually given me assurance. Remember The Special Place in St. Louis? One of my co-postulants at the time and I would go there and just encounter the absurd abstract art hanging out in the woods at that park close to the convent. I suppose the uncertainty of the time in my life and uncertainty of the art together made sense!
I believe I'm at another crossroads in my life right now that is uncertain and so art has once again proven itself a means of clarity and catharsis. I'm grateful for the opportunity to take these classes and for the support of my teacher and friends who don't think I'm crazy :)
I've been struggling my whole life with control- I think a lot of people do. Writing and art and music, well the arts in general, allow us to let go and be vulnerable in a safe, therapeutic way and I'm grateful for these gifts!
So that's my check in: Acts of Faith, Gratitude, the Holy Spirit, and my absurd art :) I will be carrying these things with me as I journey towards Easter. I hope and pray that you are also having a blessed Lent!
Oh, and I went on a hike in Northern VA the other day (when it wasn't actually 20 degrees) and the usually lush landscape of the VA hills looked like this:
That is seriously a picture I took the other day. VA or desert wasteland?! You decide. I suppose it is Lent appropriate...I just can't wait for Spring!