Saturday, March 29, 2014

Month of War

Halfway through Lent. Which means it’s time for my annual blah. Sometimes I get mad at God. Sometimes I get apathetic. But there seems to be some cyclical darkness that hits me at the same time every liturgical year. 

Ever since I started going to Catholic churches, I’ve gone on my own. It hasn’t bothered me. I like my selfish time at church, just me and Jesus. The passing of the peace interferes with my introverting, which is good, since mass is really supposed to be a communal action. I feel at home at mass, regardless of where I am or who is there. I don’t need to know anyone to feel like I belong. I belong because I’m Catholic. Every church is my church. 

But last week I was at mass, and it was lonely. I wondered how long I could be sustained by just the mass itself, without community around it. I wanted Bible studies and VBS and potlucks. I wanted to be able to name a majority of the people there. I wanted more. Perhaps the honeymoon phase has worn off, and I need something to spice up my faith or challenge me. But to sit in mass and think, “Maybe this isn’t enough,” was a jarring emotion. 

I thought about how typical it was for me to get this thought during the middle of Lent, which I normally experience some spiritual drought. It also occurred to me that I can’t be alone in this phenomenon. Lent is about drought and desserts and struggle. And it overlaps with the month of March, named after the Roman god of war. Maybe the ancient Romans felt a bit angry and unsettled at the same time every spring, just like me. One thing that Catholicism has taught me is that there is nothing new under sun: any emotion or thought or insight or experience that I might think is unique is bound to be quite common and already well-studied. The only thing new is my particular combination of these traits and my individual soul. There is something comforting knowing that I’m part of the human experience. Dark feelings come with the territory, but they aren’t revolutionary or life-altering. And best of all, they are temporary. 

After that not-so-great mass and week of sickness, odd schedules, and mega grad school stress, I came home on Thursday and slept for almost 15 hours. Friday was the first day in long time where I didn’t have to leave home, but the need for groceries forced me out of bed and out into the world. It turns out I needed to be outside. Despite the fact that it had snowed several inches earlier in the week, Friday morning was a balmy 65. The post-rain smell made everything clean and welcoming. It’s that nice time where the frost and wind of winter is gone, but the humidity and heat of summer isn’t here yet. This month is almost over. April showers quench spiritual droughts. The annual blahs pass. The god of war recedes for another year. Then it’s all Resurrection and flowers and chocolate bunnies. 


Friday, March 21, 2014

Quick Takes Friday (vol. 84)

1. I’ve started a number of blog posts but haven’t actually gotten around to finishing them (much like my schoolwork). Hopefully I will get back to some of them soon. 

2. I’ve been a bit overwhelmed with school recently. I was not as productive over spring break as I hoped. I’m going to be continuously busy from now until the middle of May.

3. Fred Phelps, the founder of Westboro Baptist Church died this week. I’m not really interested enough to do a whole post on his passing. I just hope that people don’t retaliate with protesting; it just shows that they are no better than the WBC. Forgiveness is way more powerful than revenge. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like the church is going to disband without him.

4. On a more positive note, I’m looking forward to revisiting several movies this weekend and fitting in a 25-page paper somewhere in between. 

5. Somehow, between bouts of total laziness and bouts of frenzied schoolwork, I’ve been doing more fiction writing in the past week or so. It’s slow but steady. I’m happy to see progress, as that type of writing usually only happens sporadically. Maybe by summer I’ll have a good amount to edit. 

6. We’re hitting the middle of Lent, which is usually when I have some sort of existential episode. Obviously I’m going to try to avoid it, but it’s probably wise to be on the lookout for it and actively seek ways to enrich my spirituality during this time.

7. Last, I saw this video on facebook last night. Only in Italy.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Ash Wednesday is not New Year's

Yesterday as the last few hours of Mardi Gras passed and Ash Wednesday approached, I noticed an odd spike of activity on Facebook and Twitter. “See you on April 20!” “Enjoying my last Coke for 40 days!” “No more chocolate until after Easter!” Facebook, video games, alcohol, soda, sweets…I seem to know how everyone is observing Lent. And that really bothers me.

Isn’t a public declaration of penance missing the point? Matthew 6:6: “When you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” Posting about what you personally decided to give up during Lent seem to treat the choice like 1. a perky New Year’s resolution (maybe I got that vibe from all the exclamation points) or 2. a prideful declaration to show off how spiritual and liturgically-minded you are (maybe I got that vibe from the surprising number of Baptists posting). You’re observing Lent? Good, you should be observing Lent.

1. This isn’t a New Year’s Resolution. Don’t give up fast food so you can lose weight. Give up fast food so you can donate that saved money to a charity. Don’t give up social media so you can break a bad habit. Give it up so you can spend more time in prayer. This isn’t 40 days of self-help. It’s 40 days of spiritual house cleaning and preparation for Easter. If your act isn’t focused on God (through prayer, charity, or reconciliation) than it’s not Lenten.

2. It seems to have become a fad to give something up for Lent, and it seems to have caught on without an explanation of the season accompanying it. Most people don’t know that there are 46 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter. Sundays are always mini-Easters, and therefore, not Lent. Money saved from fasting is supposed to go to charity. Again, it’s a season of spiritual improvement. If giving up Twitter helps toward that, then fine. But beginning the season with a “See you in 40 days!” and ending it with a “I’m back!” does not reflect that. 

Some people post that they are giving up social media so that people don’t try to contact them through that means. That I understand. I also understand sharing what you are giving up with your family or friends that you spend the most time with for accountability or food preparation reasons. But for the most part, an act of penance should be personal. 1,500 followers don’t fit in your inner room.