Forty More Days, Day 40 It is Finished

Those were the words Jesus spoke at the end of his life, and so on this day that celebrates the end of his death, I declare it is finished to the writing of this Lenten blog. I feel like what I said last year is as appropriate this year, so I will repost it rather than repeat myself. So grateful to be able to celebrate with millions of people all over the world that Jesus is risen. Alleluia for some, Hallelujah for others. Amen and amen. It is finished.
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Forty Days Revisited, Day 40–You Can Say That Again (We Rise)

I grew up Catholic. As a child I wondered why we couldn’t say “alleluia” during Lent. As I got older, I came to understand that this prohibition is one of many acknowledgments of the solemnity of the Lenten season, that it is a time of fasting, prayer, reflection, and various forms of sacrifice. One of those forms, firmly in place all around the world is the fasting from saying the word, “alleluia.” I was so happy when Easter came, not because of egg hunts and decorating eggs (which we rarely did) or wearing fancy clothes, complete with hats and dresses and white anklet socks with ruffles and patent leather shoes. (God am I glad those days are over.) The good news is: these 40 days are over and today you can say again what you could not say yesterday: “Christ is risen, alleluia, alleluia.”

I used to sing “alleluia” on Easter Sunday with the same gusto as I used to bellow, “Crucify him!” two days earlier at Good Friday services. It was all the same to me back then. So after 40-plus days of giving up chocolate and beer and meat on Fridays and not saying alleluia, today is the day you can knock yourself out and do all those things. Of course, I say this all tongue-in-cheek, which seems somewhat sacrilegious on this holy day of resurrection.

So let me shift gears and title the rest of this blog as I decided to later: We Rise.

We Rise
On that day, the third day, Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary (who some say Jesus’s aunt–sister to his mother ) were heading to the tomb. When they got there, the stone had been rolled back from the grave. In one account (Matthew 28), a being of light is sitting on top of the stone, ostensibly waiting to report to whichever of Jesus’s followers showed up, that Jesus was no longer in repose in the tomb. In another( Luke 24), two beings of light join the two Marys who had already entered the tomb to likewise report that Jesus was not there. In both accounts, the angels delivered essentially the same message: He isn’t here.

Different translations exist of these words. I love what the angel in this particular version (Matthew 28) is purported to have said: “He is not here. He is risen, just as he said he would.” I also love the question posed by the angels in Luke’s version: “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” Very practical question, unless you consider the ramifications of it.

Just two days earlier they had washed, anointed, and wrapped Jesus’s shredded, battered, and decidedly dead body in burial cloths. At that time, so engrossed were they in their task and enveloped in their numbed grief, they did not contemplate the notion that he would rise and return to walk among the living. And now here was this being, too bright to even look at, telling them that the body was no longer there. It even invited them to look for themselves, “Come over and see where he had lain.” After their shock at the whole thing had begun to diminish sufficiently enough for them to move, they took off running to tell the disciples.

The translation of this passage is important. The one I prefer says, “He is risen,” while others declare “He has risen.” He has risen is a stated action of something that he did, while “He is risen,” is a statement of being, of his present condition. I saw other translations that said, “He has been raised,” which took the entire thing out of his hands, like it was something done to him, rather than something that he did himself. It might be obvious here that I much prefer, “He is risen.” It would be like saying someone is awesome (something that they inherently are) or “they have awesomeness,” (which no one would say, but you get the point.) One says that’s what they are at their core, the other says that’s a quality that they possess, but that might be temporary.

And so, as we wind down these 40 days, I want to add a few thoughts to those I shared yesterday, when I wrote about how we wait after the death of a loved one:

“For we who wait after the deaths of our loved ones, there is no predicted resurrection. We know they will not come back in three days as if they went on long trip from which they would return. ”

I realized something when I woke on this “resurrection morning,” no matter what has preceded the previous night, each morning it is we who rise. We rise the next morning after the death of a loved one. We rise after we’ve fallen or been struck down by an unexpected physical or emotional blow. We rise the day after a victory just as we would after a defeat. Whether it is physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual, we rise. It has been so, and so it will continue to be. We might not quite be at “I am risen,” as a state of being, or we might be and I simply can’t picture what that looks like. But we can and do rise according to our natures and according to the laws of physics.

So while a physical body is seemingly incapable of appearing to rise after it has ceased to function (that is, it is dead), the spiritual body has and is risen. Our loved ones–my mother and father, others who have gone invisible oh so many years ago–perhaps are indeed risen and walking amongst us in some realm which our three-dimensional physical selves cannot detect. We may not see them, but they are risen. We too rise. And so it goes.

Deep bows of gratitude to everyone who has been on part or all of this Lenten journey with me. I do not know what the future holds in terms of what will happen next year–if I have another 40 days in me–but that is not important at this time. What is important is that we live in this moment as best we can, that we are present to the people and world around us right now, and that as needed, and when it is called for, we rise.

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Forty More Days, Day 39–The End is Near

Tonight I decided to share my Good Friday post from two years ago. It feels appropriate to the day and to how I am feeling. And so as we near the end of the 40 days, we also commemorate the suffering and death of Jesus. I invite you into this reflection on the last day of Jesus’s corporeal life, and thank you for joining these 39 days of reflection. The end is indeed near.
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Another Forty Days, Day 39–And So We Mourn

What a 24 hours it must’ve been between the Last Supper and the removal of Jesus’s lifeless body from the cross. Imagine the urgency he must have been feeling as he dined for the last time with his closest followers, his friends. There was so much he still wanted to tell them, to teach them, and to reassure them one more time that everything that was happening and going to happen was all part of the plan. Perhaps he had to likewise remind himself that it was part of the plan.

“Okay, friends, remember when you take this bread and this wine and bless it to share with others, remember the sacrifice that I am about to make. When you do this, remember me.” So many things to tell them, so little time. And yet if the entire scenario was to play itself out, he was essentially out of time. He had to release Judas to go play his part by betraying him to the authorities, and he still needed a little time to prepare himself, because once it all started to go down, these very same beloved disciples would scatter and desert him, cowering in fear that the same fate that befell Jesus would likewise fall upon them.

And so when the conversation and dining was over, as was often his habit, he retreated to pray. He brought some of his disciples with him, asking that they keep watch and likewise pray. He walked a little deeper into the garden, before “falling with his face to the ground” crying out in agony to God. In the garden, the Son of Man agonized and fretted in such anguish that it was said that his sweat came out like great drops of blood. He essentially asked God if he really had to go through with it, the suffering and death he knew was coming. He really was, in those hours, the son of man, for what human being would want to endure what he knew was to come. And, perhaps the worst part of it was that through the ordeal he would be separated from God, the one constant voice, connection, he’d enjoyed throughout his entire life. Yes, I suppose I would also be lamenting and crying out and sweating blood.

At the end of a long day, and the end of a much longer week, one which began with triumph and adulation and would end with ignominy and rejection, he spent those last solitary hours in mental torment.

This evening I was talking to my friend about how I envisioned various parts of the “passion story.” We talked through some of the gory, painful details of what we imagined happened to Jesus from the time Judas kissed him and turned him over to the mob to the time he spoke his last anguished words that told of his disconnection from his father, “my god, my god, why have you abandoned me?” Such a heart-wrenching and excruciatingly painful story. Whether one is religious, agnostic, or even atheist, a story of such human suffering touches all but the coldest, deadest heart. And so we mourn.

I find my heart breaking for all the other innocent victims who are tortured, suffer, and die in agony, ignominy, and rejection. So very many, all around the world. Can we not see Jesus in them recognize their humanity? I have been on a news fast for many, many weeks. I simply could not turn on the evening news, even the local broadcasts, and take in the sorry state of the world. One cannot act if one is overwhelmed and depressed by the sheer magnitude of the problems we face in healing this planet. And so, I stopped watching, particularly the over-sensationalized stuff I had been dining with each night after I came home from work.

I have the privilege to simply turn off the television, stop reading the news on my Facebook feed, and engage my mind in mundane pursuits. But the passion of Jesus, commemorated today in particular, but every day in Catholic masses around the world, invites me to turn and face those things I find difficult to bear and ask, “What can I do? How can I serve?” I am not sure I have the answer in its entirety; perhaps I only have an answer for myself and we each must seek our own. As I wrote two weeks ago:

“How can we hope to make a change, given all the strife around us? And then a light goes on and I remind myself that it starts and ends with me, doing what I do where I do it.  If I focused on all that needs to happen in the world, my heart would go out of me at the near impossibility of the task. I have to remember that it is not my job to change the whole world, I need to work in my own back yard. That is the way to change the world: by changing my world.” ~Another Forty Days, Day 24

And so it goes. On this the 39th day, I bow my head in remembrance.

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Forty More Days, Day 38–The Do Over

Every once in a while, we simply want a do over. I was talking with a friend the other day. He is exploring a new job opportunity at a time when he is burned out at his current job. “I’ve gone about as far as I can at this place,” he stated, “At a new job in a new place I could start again. It would be like a do over.”

I am a bit unconvinced by his logic. Sometimes starting a new thing in a new place is kind of like starting from scratch, developing new relationships, having to prove yourself all over again. At least in his current role it’s the devil he knows. But then again, it’s a devil and who wants to deal with that on a regular basis. I’m afraid I wasn’t much help, other than to listen to him, and so he continues to brood over the opportunity. Interestingly, it’s only an opportunity, but he’s acting like it’s a done deal. “Just focus on this first step in the process and see what happens,” I suggested, “Perhaps the answer will reveal itself to you.” Perhaps.

Sometimes we actually get a do over, a second chance to do something differently. More often than not, though, we can’t go back and re-do something. What’s done is done, and the best we can do is learn from it and move on. It could be that rather than getting a new job as a do over, using lessons learned from the old job, my friend will run right smack dab into the same challenges he’s trying to escape. Part of his process might need to be examining if he is running from the old job or running toward the new one. Is he feeling pushed to leave or pulled toward an attractive new opportunity? I believe he will find it helpful to consider that question even as he take the first step in the interview process.

It makes me a little sad to see my friend struggling. I wish I could be more helpful. But I know that sometimes we have to wrestle with ourselves to get the answers we seek. And while we may seek the advice of the people around us, at the end of the day we alone make our own choices and decisions. I hope for his sake that he emerges with an answer that resonates with where his heart, mind, and spirit are, and that rather than a do over (which feels like repeating something you’ve already done) he gets a fresh start, even if he ends up staying in his current job.

Speaking of do overs, we are nearing the end of our 40 days together. This is my fifth year writing a Lenten blog and it’s been a bit of a struggle. But here we are on day 38 with two more official writing days to hit 40. Somehow we made it together. In spite of a few reposts when I was too tired to be original, we will make it across the finish line once again. I am grateful for the opportunity to share some of my reflections with you and hope you were inspired to do some introspection and reflection on your own. And so it goes.

 

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Forty More Days, Day 37–Palm Sunday Musings

And so it begins, the final week of Lent. It feels like it got here quickly, but a few weeks ago, it felt like it was taking forever. Such is the way it is with time, I suppose.

I’m thinking about Jesus, which makes sense given that today is Palm Sunday. By the time he climbed aboard the little donkey that the disciples had procured to convey him to Jerusalem, he had to know that this was the end of things. I often have wondered what Jesus knew and when he knew it about the time and manner of his death. He was, after all, the Son of God. Of course he was also the Son of Man, human like the rest of us. Did he have to guess, like the rest of us do, about what was going to happen? Did he know when he said good bye to his mother that last time that the next time he saw her he would be looking out through swollen eyes down at her from the cross? When did he know?

I can’t imagine what it must’ve been like to come riding into town to the cheers of the crowd knowing, as he probably did, that these same adoring people would be jeering at and taunting him in a few short days. Was he able to enjoy the moment without focusing on the future? That would be the ultimate in living in the moment, and something I can learn from.

I, like so many of us, have a lot going on in my life. I have a lot of things coming up in the immediate future such that I can barely appreciate and enjoy what’s right in front of me. It’s an interesting and often difficult balance to strike: living in the moment while also preparing for the future. So I shift back and forth–do a little preparing for a little while, focus on the here and now for a little while. One can only prepare so much for a thing; even something that should be routine and predictable can  take a quirky bounce and end up not at all as expected. So I plan and prepare, being certain to plan for when something unexpected happens, which is a bit ridiculous because it’s unexpected. But I try to control for it anyway.

I have things to think about and potential decisions to make, but they are not life and death like Jesus’s were. I won’t pray so hard about them that I sweat blood. I hope I can accept things as they come with some measure of equanimity, but knowing myself as I do, I am not sure how equanimous I can be. If I knew things far ahead, like Jesus did, would I go through with things that I knew would bring me pain and grief? I don’t know that I would have the strength to do what needed to be done.

These 40 days have been about thinking through questions like these and living into the answers, as best we can. Rilke says we are to, “try to love the questions themselves.” And so we do, even when there are more questions than answers and we don’t have Jesus’s foreknowledge. It is as it ever has been, world without end. Amen.

 

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Forty More Days, Day 36–On Following Through

Sometimes I can’t quite get my timing right. When I have time to do something, I don’t have energy. When I have energy, I don’t have time to do anything with it. Today, for example, I have the opportunity to get a head start on writing this evening’s blog now instead of waiting until this evening. Really, all I want to do is curl up on the sofa and take a nap. Such is life on a Saturday morning after what has been a long week. Truly, timing is everything.

We are on the eve of Holy Week, the beginning of the end for these 40 days. How have we spent this time? Life has a way of intervening such that, if we’re not intentional, we will sleepwalk through an entire experience. The 40 days of Lent are nearly up. For those who observe, it has meant giving something up or taking something on. It has meant at times focusing on what it means to sacrifice, what it means to suffer.

For the past several days I have been suffering from the worst cases of writer’s block I’ve had in a long while. Every night over the past week I’ve come and stared at the blank screen and the cursor blinking unfailingly as I struggled with what to write about. Truly these 40 days have not been smooth to be sure. And yet I have persevered, sometimes pushing through to add an original piece to the mix, and other times reaching into my trove of past posts to find one that fits the bill. Either way, people have found their way to this little blog and have derived benefit from it.

Part of the sacrifice is learning when to push through our tiredness and writer’s block to create something new. The other side of that is exercising self-care and knowing when to give up the struggle and don’t write anything. It’s hard on those of us who are accustomed to following through on a commitment to have to renege and not do the thing we said we were going to do. I don’t have such a huge following that my failure to post on a day will cause great ripples in the force. If people really need to hear from me, they can go to my other Forty Days blogs right here in “Consider This.”

But it’s not about disappointing the fans that’s difficult, it’s promising something and not delivering on it that’s the hard part. It’s the internal voice that says you’ve failed, you’ve let down people who were counting on you. At this point it becomes about more than not posting a blog entry one evening, it’s about setting sometimes unreal expectations and then flagellating oneself for not meeting them. It’s a no-win situation that I’ve put myself into on a number of occasions.

If the introspection about these 30-plus days has taught me anything it is about the value of self-compassion, of letting myself off the really deep hook I’ve stuck myself onto. It’s about offering comfort to myself when I can’t meet an obligation, encouraging myself as I would do for someone I cared about. It makes a difference in how I approach things. If I don’t post an original piece on a given day, it does not make me a failure, it simply means that in that moment I was unable to do what I said I was going to do. It happens to the best of us.

So as Holy Week approaches, I am committed to writing original posts each day, as best I can, up until and on Easter Sunday. If I find myself unable to do so, I hope you’ll forgive me, as I most certainly must forgive myself. And so it goes.

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Forty More Days, Day 35–On Loving More

Here we are again on a Friday night at the end of what has felt like two week’s worth of week. I am continuing to honor my tired mind and body by offering a repeat of an earlier post. This one is from February of 2016. I hope to be back with original posts throughout Holy Week. We’ll see how that goes. Thanks for reading.

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The Next Forty Days, Day 13–Jesus Wept

The shortest verse in the bible is in the Gospel of John, chapter 11, verse 35. “Jesus wept.” Two words. I first learned about this verse when my father told us the story about how he and his siblings each had to say a bible verse before they could eat dinner. One night, my father said, “Jesus wept,” and my uncle Ed, his older brother, fresh out of memorized versus followed up with, “He sure did.” I think that night Uncle Eddie probably didn’t get any supper.

So, Jesus wept. I’m thinking it was not great gulping sobs as one might envision, but simple tears of compassion and grief for the suffering he saw before him in the people around him. I can’t help but believe that if he were to look across the landscape of the world today, he would probably still be weeping. Jesus is not here in the corporeal sense, but people of compassion and spirit, we who believe in love, can weep. Beyond weeping we can extend ourselves into the world around us and become the hands, feet, and arms of god, reaching out to, serving, embracing one another. I have to believe that we who believe in love must extend it into the world.

So what does this mean in practical terms? I don’t believe it means going out of your way to do some good–volunteering at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen or hospice or something like that. While those are definitely good things to do, and I highly recommend doing them, extending love and compassion into the world can look a little different for each of us. The work that I do involves interacting with people all day every day. I deal a lot with people who have felt ignored, disenfranchised, and disconnected from other human beings and from our institutions.

Sometimes the simple act of listening has made a difference. People need to know that someone is listening and cares for them, even if they can’t necessarily fix the problem. “Thank you for listening to me. You’re the first person who has really tried to help me since I’ve been here.” I was working with a young person who had a really difficult, almost impossible situation. I had told him early on that I wasn’t sure I’d even be able to help him, but what I could do is listen, make some inquiries to see what I could do. In the end we were able to work out part of a solution that was far from perfect, but to him it had turned out positively simply because someone cared enough to listen and take action to do something that was within my ability to do. What is within your ability to do?

The journey of these 40 days of Lent need not be filled with simply giving things up (see Day One of this blog) but by finding those places where we can work to ease the suffering in and bring joy to the world around us. I know, it sounds kind of corny or idealistic, but I actually believe that it can be just that simple. I have a colleague who has adopted the phrase “love more” as her personal mantra, her approach to her work, and the way she walks through the world. I know there are times when she feels like she doesn’t quite hit the mark, but even the aspiration of approaching each day with the desire and intention to extend love and compassion into the world is a beautiful place to start.

How will you go out into the world in the days ahead? Where are the small acts of kindness you can extend as part of your daily routine? From my perspective, those actions are every bit as spiritual as whatever you’ve chosen to give up for Lent. Over these 40 days I want to be much more intentional in reaching out in love to some of the people around me. I’m not going to plan anything in particular, I’m simply going to pay attention in a different way to the people around me. My hunch is that I’ll see my way in, finding ways to connect with them that if nothing else brings a little light their way. Again, as I write this or talk about it aloud, it sounds a bit corny, but when you do it, wonderful things often happen.

Jesus wept (he sure did), but he also set about doing good for the people around him. That sounds like a pretty good way of being and that’s good enough for me.

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Forty More Days, Day 34–On Making Decisions

Every evening I come upstairs to my home office, log into my computer and open up this blog site. I stare at the blinking cursor of death for several minutes–sometimes longer–and contemplate what on earth I’m going to write about. Today is not so different.

We are at the time of year at my job where everything is happening all at once. There are events to attend (or speak at) and all kinds of activity that happens at the end of a semester. It’s a time of great exhaustion for me, and in spite of my best intentions, I manage to get worn pretty thin right about now. It’s the perfect time to be experiencing the 4o days of Lent. And, in spite of my best intentions to write an original post, I simply don’t have it in me this evening. So Siri and I are going to choose a post from one of my previous Forty Days blogs.

I hope to have the energy to write an original post in the next few days and on into Holy Week next week. Finger crossed. Until then, please enjoy this repeat post. It speaks to something I’ve been thinking a great deal about lately: making decisions.
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Forty Days, Day 35–Decisions, Decisions

The word “clairvoyance” come from the French words that mean “clear seeing.” How many times do we wish we could see clearly when we’re in the throes of trying to make a decision, particularly a major one? I suspect, however, that if we had the “gift” of clairvoyance life could conceivably be a whole lot less interesting. Throughout the course of my lifetime, I’ve made decisions that have perhaps defied logic, gone against prevailing conventional wisdom. Some of these decisions have had negative, unintended consequences and others turned out wonderful in a completely unpredictable way.

How often have you said something like, “If I had known how that was going to turn out, I never would have done it?” When I was younger I probably would have said that. Now as a near elder/crone, I would perhaps say with some measure of surprise, “Oh! That’s not how I thought that was going to go. How interesting…” I still have my moments of extreme self-flagellation when a decision I’ve made appears to go awry. I fuss at myself (“Wow, that was stupid–what made you decide to do that?”) and show very little compassion for who I was and what was happening at the time I made the decision. Under different circumstances with more, better, clearer information I might have come to a different conclusion and taken a different action.

“Do the best you can, where you are, with what you have, now.” Is a piece of advice I read recently.  It aligns nicely with what I’ve come to believe: there are very few “wrong” decisions, or even bad ones. There are the decisions that we make at a specific time under a specific set of conditions. On any given day we might have made different ones and had different outcomes. You see, I view my life journey as being guided by an internal satellite navigation system. If I am motoring along and my life GPS tells me to turn right and I choose to turn left, the System recalculates my route and, assuming I still want the original destination, while chart a new course to get me where I’m going. It might take me longer and take me a more circuitous route than I might have taken had I turned right when and where it told me, but in the end I’ll still reach my desired destination.

Over the course of my life I’ve made a series of left turns when I “should have” turned right, and as a result I’ve sometimes taken a variety of detours and workarounds that took me miles and miles out of the way. But at the end of the day, my internal GPS is guiding me toward my destination and I am the one determining what that destination is.

A few months ago I stood at a fork in the road that caused me to once again ponder another life change, a change in circumstance. In some ways, it was a simple decision. One pathway potentially led to a new and exciting opportunity with new responsibilities, increased authority and ability to effect change, greater rewards in a location where the cost of living was more reasonable. No brainer, right? But not so simple. The other path would at first appear to be rife with perils and pitfalls. Metaphorically it looked a bit like those creepy paths into dark woods where twisted trees and fog obscured all manner of dangerous things. But upon closer inspection this scary path also contained comforting and familiar people, places, and things and I was loath to leave. And the pretty path had its own particular hazards.

Eventually, I went with what my gut (and heart and head) was telling me to do: take yet another risk, move away once again from the comfort and support of beloved family to strike out in a new direction, and hope for the best. At the end of the day, all we really can do is trust ourselves and our higher power that if the decision we make today isn’t the “right” one, our internal navigation system will recalculate and put us back on course for our desired destination. When I have done this, I have found myself experiencing adventures and meeting people I never would have encountered if I’d taken the turn I was supposed to. And in some cases, the destination changed–it turned out I really didn’t need to go where I was going, but I didn’t know that until I got there. This is all very metaphorical, but I hope it makes some sense even to the more practical-minded reader.

A friend and I were chatting about this and about the 40 days reflection. She suggested that I write about how one makes decisions “when your hands are tied and you don’t have enough information…Surely Jesus had these decisions to make.” Yes, he did. And I found myself wondering how much Jesus knew about what was going to happen to him before it occurred. Did he know far ahead of time what was going to happen or did he experience its unfolding just before it happened? How much did he know in detail, and how much was vague? Was he “clear seeing” and knew what was in store for him, and how did it affect his decision making?

Even knowing what he did, whenever he knew it, he struggled with what he was being called upon to do. He prayed, as many of us so often do, that he might somehow be spared from what was going to happen to him. He might have known that he would go through with everything, knowing that it was for a greater good, but that doesn’t mean he was excited and pleased about it. In some ways for him there was no choice, no decision to make. Karl Jung said, “Free will is the ability to gladly that which I must.” I am not sure Jesus did what he did gladly, but he did it of his on free will. And after many hours of anguished prayer, during which he sweated blood and asked God for an out, once he accepted what was laid on him to do, he bore it with grace.

I may never be called upon to make the kind of agonizing decisions that Jesus and others have had to make: life and death decisions. I hope that whatever decisions I am called upon to make I can do so with calm, equanimity, and the assurance that I have done the best I could, where I was, with what I had in that moment. That is all there is. And so it goes.

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