Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Lent, retreat, purification and truth

Growing up mostly Methodist and tuning out as a young adult, I didn't really get Lent. All of the Catholic kids at school were either complaining or comparing what they were giving up. Usually easy stuff like chewing gum or cotton candy. Nothing very persuasive or impressive. And there was the awful cafeteria fish we were served on Fridays in public school during this season.

And, I hadn't really considered it since except I am slowly building a relationship with a wonderful Episcopal minister (I think that's the right term; Mary doesn't strike me as a priest). She asked me once if I wanted her to "unpack" lent and I, politely, said yes, thinking what new could you possibly tell me. Plenty, I discovered. Wish I'd tuned in a little closer at first and taken notes. What I do recall is that she talked about 40 being such a pivotal number in the Bible: Noah's rainy 40 days and nights and the 40 years the Israelites wandered in the wilderness. Google showed many more examples. Then she spoke of lent in terms of a retreat time. Then, my ears and heart perked up. I always relish the idea of retreat, whether it's away or in my studio. She explained it as a time to be silent, still and listen to what challenges Spirit presents.

And today's Thomas Keating meditation fits right in:
"Biblical Desert: Interior PurificationSit alone in silence ...Lamentations: 3:28
Lent is the season in which the church as a whole enters into an extended retreat. Jesus went into the desert for forty days and forty nights. The practice of Lent  is a participation in Jesus' solitude, silence and privation ... The biblical desert is not so much a geographical location – a place of sand, stones or sagebrush – as a process of interior purification leading to complete liberation from the false-self system with its programs for happiness that cannot possibly work ..."
– March 4 from The Daily Reader for Contemplative Living: Excerpts from the Works of Father Thomas Keating

It's as if he knew my word for the year, the one Mary handed me last week, is purification.

Yesterday's meditation focused on how the Gospel calls us to be responsible for our emotional life, recognizing its weaknesses and how it interferes with us truly listening to others. "The work of Lent," he writes, "is to face the unconscious values that underlie the emotional programs for happiness and to change them ... with a discipline of contemplative prayer and action."

I love that, within the established church – perhaps not mine – there is a season for this work! You know, on the surface, Catholics and Quakers appear very different. Symbolism and ritual have no place in physical Quakerism and yet, when you look to the mystical aspects of both faiths, there is so much similarity. I'd guess that 75 percent of the "convinced"Quakers I know (not born into it) were Catholic. I've even heard people call themselves Quatholic!

I did pay attention to yesterday's message about taking responsibility for our emotions and their programs of happiness. I pulled out the microscope and looked at that coupled with this notion of purification. What I saw was sobering. I have built a life for so long based on pain, injury and woundedness. My lens was colored and I hadn't even noticed. At bedtime, a book I borrowed eons ago, called out to me. "The Prosperity Secrets of the Ages" (Catherine Ponder) was loaned to me by my wise spiritual friend Char. I had attempted it once before, agreeing with the first few pages, but putting it away. Last night, I couldn't put it down. It's the next piece in my purification puzzle. Blessing is God' way, cursing is not. I hadn't thought of my point of view as cursing, but it has been. I have been living with a filter of negativity. Understandable after 15 years of chronic pain, but no longer tolerable.

I began saying all manner of blessings last night and slept the best I have in over a week. Tuesday lap time is often prayer time, so midway through, I began blessing everyone and everything I could think of. With 88 laps, I still had more to bless!

I'm achy today, but it's so much easier to tolerate with this perspective of blessing. It seems like the self-fulfilling prophesy. Could it really be so simple?

I have chuckled over the past weeks as I hammer out a "Pain as Spiritual Teacher" workshop, beginning to see that my nemesis, woundedness and pain, is becoming my gift. Ah, the Wounded Healer!

• What meaning has Lent held for me?
• How has that changed over time?
• How can it become contemplative for me?
• To what challenge is God calling me right now?
• How am I examining that in stillness, prayer and silence?

no time for
my normal
January retreat

sick and
missed Mary's
new-year session

knowing I
need this so

and learning
there is a
season for it

the time I
always seek
rebirth and

Listen to this post:

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