Friday, February 1, 2008

Thinking about Lent

We are just drowning in rain here. The kind of a day when you want to snuggle on your flat futon with both your kids under the White Witch's cloak* and read The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe all the way to the end with a big mug of steaming coffee. Joseph was all about this plan and, fortunately, Eric didn't need his coffee thermos today so I had the steaming beverage on hand. We were interrupted, however, by Jorge, the best orthopedic equipment technician ever. Then it was lunch and now rest time and the rain is coming down harder than ever so I'll blog over my lunch (pancakes--isn't what you eat for lunch on a rainy day?) and watch the cars go by out our bay windows.

*I just realized that I'm confusing two different conversations. I remarked somewhere else recently that Joseph is really enjoying his first trip through Narnia but that the one thing he wanted to re-enact after reading the first few chapters was snuggling under the White Witch's cloak in which I was honored with the role of Witch and our lovely blue afghan became the cloak. I think Margaret must have been the dwarf in this scenario and, come to think of it, Joseph was the pre-conversion Edmund so none of us fared too well.

I've been thinking about Lent for a long time. I kept making January a week short in my mind, thereby bumping up Ash Wednesday considerably which is a funny thing to do in a year when Lent comes almost as early as it possibly can. I like to set my sights high when it comes to penitential practices during Lent because, after all, isn't Lent all about assured discouragement, dashed hopes, and finding out that you aren't any more holy during these forty days than the rest of the year? Fasting is a major challenge for me and I know there are many opinions on fasting for pregnant and nursing moms but I'm not sure I can really call myself pregnant or nursing this year. Margaret, after all, does nibble at food from time to time. But she does still nurse quite a bit which helps explain the not pregnant part and I don't know how to factor that in to my fasting decisions in light of how hard it was for me to fast back in my single days.

Fasting on Good Friday and Ash Wednesday and abstaining from meat on all Fridays during Lent are all that the Church requires of us but it is common to take on extra penitential practices during Lent to help us in overcoming sin and preparing for the great feast of Easter. Our family tries to adopt a spirit of sacrifice during Lent, mostly with regard to food. This year we will be eating the fruits of Soup Week each night. Desserts are out as well (though we'll have them for Eric's birthday and the Solemnity of St. Joseph). I always try to add something in the form of extra prayer--this year I'd been giving some thought to more of the Divine Office.

But what to give up? I'm nosy about this topic with others and perhaps I shouldn't be because it is rather personal. Two categories of "penance" I've seen come up often don't sit well with me. The first is the "my life is already hard" category. This is where I wonder if I'm generous enough about penance when pregnant. After all, I think, I'm already pregnant. I'm throwing up every five minutes and falling over tired every other minute and I can only stomach hot-fudge sundaes. Do I really have to give up something for Lent, too? Well, yes, I think I do. I don't think having a normally hard life excuses one from growing in virtue though a bit more creativity is probably required in the particulars of penitential practice. The other thing that bugs me is the temptation to give up vices. Of course vices should be shed. I can think of many in my case. What if I gave up nagging my husband for Lent? He'd probably like that. It might even be sacrificial in so far as it would be really difficult to give up nagging. But a penance, I think, should be the giving up of something that is inherently good. The Lord wants our best, our first fruits, in sacrifice. We should be conquering vice all year. Lent is the time to find something good in our life, something we really love and really enjoy, but that is ultimately not necessary and offer it up to the Lord. Sacrificing coffee or chocolate or ice cream sundaes comes to mind here.

All that said, I'm betting that my readers will have differing opinions on the legitimacy of my penance this Lent: I'm going to make a schedule. I kept thinking about all the different things I could add or remove from my life for Lent and I realized that they were all going to be sacrifices of time: more time in prayer, less time on the computer, less time crafting, more time doing the dishes. None of my ideas was working for me as a stand-alone sacrifice and I hit on the idea of making a schedule.

I'm not sure what I think about the relative virtue and vice of having a schedule as opposed to just "going with the flow" (or "flying by the seat of one's pants" as it more often is around here). Some may disagree (and I would be interested in your thoughts) that a schedule is necessary and an objective good and therefore not a valid penance because I should be working on it year-round. But I suspect that the need for a schedule is more a personality thing. Some people thrive on more rigid schedules and some people thrive on spontaneity or a loose rhythm. If you are the latter and you have the virtue to do what needs to be when it needs doing this can be a great way to live. I am not so virtuous but I keep telling myself that "I'm not a schedule person" because every time I've tried a schedule I've failed because it's been, well, hard.

So I'm going to make a schedule and stick to it (with much help from the Lord) for forty days. By Easter I hope to at least have learned something about myself and schedules. This approach will also have the result of increasing my prayer time (because I'll schedule it) decreasing my computer time (because I'll schedule it) and simplifying life a great deal, I hope. Free time will also be scheduled--no worries.

Given the realities of life with small children I don't think I'll be able to pull off anything too rigid. I plan to take time this weekend to write down the things that must happen at a certain time each day and then peg lists to those times. I'll likely end up with a morning list, an afternoon list, and an evening list. The lists will be the tasks that need doing in the order I should do them with free time for anything leftover. We'll see how things shake out as I put this down on paper over the next few days.

What are you giving up for Lent?


Robyn said...

This sounds great, Q! I love that idea.

I was thinking about Lent during New Year's thinking it could be a time that I chose one of my goals for the year and really focus on it. Like eating locally. I was thinking we would spent the lenten season either researching things (like how far away things really come and eliminating our top 5 or something like that). But, I just found out that Fresh Direct has a local section. I can get all of my dairy and meat locally through them. And we recently signed up for the CSA that just started in our 'hood. It would have been a stretch in any case...trying to make the goal lent-like.

So, all that to say...I've been thinking about it, but have not come up with any awesome ideas yet.

I like how far in advance you think and plan and prepare for lent.

Cool, yo.

Susan said...

Well it's only a few days, now, Robyn! Ash Wednesday is next week. Let me know what you come up with. You should blog about your local food stuff, too. I'm interested to hear more . . .

liturgy said...

Helpful post thanks

More about Lent here:

Mrs. T said...

Congratulations, tentatively!

I'm taking a break from blogging for Lent, which is a HUGE sacrifice, believe me! It's getting a little out of hand anyway, and is an area where I need to practice discipline (and as with things like Confession, I won't do it unless I absolutely HAVE to). I'll have to keep up the high-school English blog, as class will keep going on, but otherwise I plan to confine myself to weekly "Feast Day" posts on Sundays.

We already abstain from meat on Fridays all year round, but during Lent we traditionally give up coffee, alcohol, and all sweets. For years I used to say that my discipline was to live with someone who had given up coffee, alcohol and sweets for forty days . . . We just generally go for abstemiousness and the sense of fasting from things which make our lives merrier during feast seasons.

I also strip our mantel/altar significantly and put a crucifix at the center of it.

Thinking of trying to find some "Stations of the Cross" coloring pages (haven't checked out that section of Catherine Fournier's Domestic Church yet, but they are a great resource) for the little kids, so that we can make a "Stations" booklet. We try to do the stations at least once a week at home, singing verses of the Stabat Mater at each one, to -- I'm sure -- the bemusement of our Assemblies of God neighbors. We have little illustrated booklets with readings from St. Alphonsus Liguori, which are lovely, but I think the littles would like to have their own. We can color pages and put them in page protectors and staple them. Then they could take them to church for Stations as well.

We're currently reading The Hobbit, the littles and I, and I think we may go on to The Fellowship of the Ring. Several years ago we were reading the last book of the trilogy during Lent, and it was a profound experience, at least for me.

Anonymous said...

Hi Susan!

I just finished with a wonderful book that you may have read....A Mother's Rule of Life. It is about her conversion as well as her conversion to the use of a schedule. It has been a great tool in our life over the past while here in St. Paul. Also, I received a new Liturgy for Christmas and in her book she encourages scheduling the time to pray with it throughout the day. God has really used a mixture of her book, a new family schedule and the Liturgy to bring alot of peace and order to my our life during the past while and I thought I'd share that with you!

Britt in St. Paul, MN