The (mostly) book-related things I’m doing for Lent aren’t “religious” things, exactly, so this post won’t be preachy, I hope. It would be pretty rich if it were, since I’m a . . . well, not even half . . . maybe a quarter-assed Christian. I sometimes describe church-going as a habit I’ve failed to break. At this point in my life I’ve stopped worrying about believing. I don’t know what I believe and I don’t think it matters much. Because I find some meaning and purpose in the community, the language, and the rituals of Christianity, I keep at it, in my quarter-assed kind of way. Maybe only an eighth of an ass. Here’s how I see what I’m doing fitting into the Lenten disciplines of self-examination, fasting and prayer.
Video Series on Time + Morning Pages [Self-Examination]
As I did last year, I have subscribed to the Lenten video series from the monks at the Society of St. John the Evangelist (actually, I didn’t have to resubscribe; those monks are crafty. I’ve been getting a daily short meditation by email all year). This year’s theme is time. Here’s a bit from the introductory video, which points out that the first thing God calls holy in the Bible is time, the seventh day of creation:
For many of us, time is experienced no longer as a precious gift, but almost like an enemy. We haven’t got enough time. “I can never get everything done that I want to do. Oh, if only I could have more time.” Or on the other hand we waste time and we fritter it away and kill time. All of these things I think – which bear witness to a sense of disorderedness, a disordered relationship with this precious gift.
I’ve been doing some secular things in the past year or so to try to bring order to my relationship with time, and I’m looking forward to some more spiritual consideration of this as well.
Since January I’ve been doing Morning Pages (sort of) and during Lent I’m starting my day by watching the video and then writing at least partly in response to it. Doing this last year re-started a journaling habit I had pretty much abandoned in my children’s early years, and I have found it helpful. (I’ve also requested Julia Cameron’s book from the library).
Book-Buying Ban [Fasting]
I did this last year; since books are probably the thing I’m most likely to mindlessly acquire, it’s a good kind of “fast” for me. Given our culture’s attitudes to women and food, fasts involving food feel too much like “a diet” to me. I wanted something that I could more easily frame as a spiritual discipline.
I think of this not so much as giving something up but as focusing on how much I have and being grateful for it. (It’s not like I’m going to run out of reading material in 40 days.) Anxiety about having “enough” in life–enough money, time, love, support, wisdom, whatever–is something I’ve been working on for a long time. I was inspired to focus on it more by reading Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century, which brought home to me not just how much closer I am to the top of the wealth and income hierarchy than to the bottom, but how much I have benefited from tax policies that are dramatically increasing and perpetuating inequalities of wealth. I’m not super rich, but I am most certainly not poor, and yet my feelings about money are almost always scarcity and anxiety, which means I don’t use my money as wisely or generously as I’d like to. Not buying books is one small way I am trying to reframe my thinking about what resources I have.
This one is not working out perfectly. I decided not to use the library either, so I could focus on what I have. But I made an exception for library holds, and of course 6 came in last week–the better part of 40 days’ reading right there. I might return some unread. And I’m also grateful for the abundance provided by my library.
“Spiritual” Reading [Prayer]
The videos and morning pages are really a kind of prayer too, but every year I try to read something, slowly, that I can meditate on. This year, it’s Christian Wiman’s My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer, which my dad gave me for Christmas. As Wiman explains in the preface, the book grew in part out of the responses he received to his essay “Love Bade Me Welcome.” He talks about how that essay gave him his first real experience of dialogue and connection with an audience (he’s a poet).
I wanted to write a book that might help someone who is at once as confused and certain about the source of life and consciousness as I am.
Well, I’ve got the confused part down. And I could use some help.