Holy Thursday. . .
Lent is coming to an end. I was raised Catholic, and I have been blessed to change my views of church and God and Spirit at different times in my life. Mostly I’ve been blessed to have spiritual supporters who accept me with whatever concept of God I choose today. I’m not a weekly participant at the Church of my childhood these days, but I am also not angry or resentful about it; I respect its believers and many of the rituals – especially Lent.
When I was living in Utah I was very much involved with the Catholic Church as I belonged to a progressive, supportive parish on the campus of the U of U. One Lent, when I was an undergrad at the U, I decided to give up make-up for Lent. The gal I was sharing this with reminded my that God didn’t want us to look like we were suffering during Lent – she pointed me to Matthew 6 (http://www.esvbible.org/Matthew+6/) in which Jesus instructs us not to be hypocrites and talk about how difficult this fasting and alms-giving is. Jesus instructs us not to pray in front of everyone like a martyr but to go to an inner room and pray privately. Her point was – that I shouldn’t want to “look bad” in order to praise God. As we talked through this – my giving up make-up was more about giving time and service (and maybe even money) to things that were not about my physical appearance. So I stopped – for about 15 years!
Life is so very much like Lent! I mean entering that darkness and silence is so quiet, so peaceful, so different than what we usually do. For me, it isn’t about not eating meat, it is about why we fast, give-up, and give more. Each time I sacrifice, I am reminded to make peace with that which makes me uncomfortable. If you are Catholic – it reminds us that Jesus was pretty uncomfortable for us.
More existentially though – it helped me practice darkness. When my spiritual quest took me to the Buddhist meditation cushion, I was reminded again about being at peace in all conditions. Although this time I wasn’t really being asked to fast (until I visited a monastery for 4 days), I was being asked to sit. Most faith traditions have a contemplative prayer practice, but the Theravada Buddhists just spoke to me with their simplicity. Just sit. Just breathe. Just do this for 5 minutes! Ha! Five minutes seemed an eternity. I actually began sitting on our sofa while the morning coffee brewed – this was about 3.78 minutes (but who’s counting). During this time I was a Buddhist/Catholic (I guess I still am); carrying principles of breathe, silence and mantra, and including the Holy Spirit into the mantras.
As I began sitting for longer periods, I needed the advice of those who went before me, so I began listening to Dhamma (teacher) talks. The one that sits in the back of my mind is one entitled “Making Friendliness with all Conditions.” This talk was about sitting on the cushion and watching your mind tell you not to sit there!
I sit and try to just be right there, but what happens? My mind starts thinking about answering the email for work, or worrying about my daughter not doing her homework, and then failing, and then not graduating, and then not going to college, and then never leaving our home, and then people judging me for not being a good parent, and then, and then, and then, and then. When I return to the breathe and bring it back into my living room, I am just breathing, and my daughter is just sleeping. No one is failing, no one is judging. If I had stood up and checked my work email when that first thought came to me I could have stopped all those other thoughts. But then I wouldn’t have ever learned how that mind of mine is really out to torture me when I don’t just sit and watch it for what it is.
Watching it allows me to get to the point of me being judged – which really causes the heart to race and the sweat to start – it has very little to do with my daughters’ brief (doesn’t feel brief when you are sitting next to it) stage of adolescence. Making friendliness means that if I learn to sit on the cushion and just be comfortable with the thoughts, with the silence, with the uncomfortableness, that I can take this into life.
So when I am in the hospital holding the hand of a loved one, and my mind begins taking me to the future of planning a funeral and who I should call, and to the past of pointing out my inadequacies about not doing enough loving deeds and feeling guilty – I know this is just my mind. All I am doing is holding the hand of a loved one who is dying. I am present. It is difficult. I am making friendliness with this difficulty. I can sit here in this present and not break and not explode. I am able to be with the awesome present moment knowing that Lent ends and we experience the Sunlight and Resurrection that is Jesus.