Why I Participate in Lent

Three reasons I participate in a season of Lent; community, reflection, intentional living.

Artist Chris Clark's rendition of Jesus using quilting.
Artist Chris Clark’s rendition of Jesus.

This year, Lent takes place for the seven weeks between Wednesday, February 18 and Saturday, April 4.  There are 3 reasons for why I participate in Lent.

Lent is public yet simultaneously exclusive, private, yet simultaneously communal.

I love a good paradox, and Lent seems to be that.  Although the Christian holidays of Christmas and Easter are more commercial, Lent has not become that way, and frankly, probably won’t.   A season devoted to giving things up? How can you capitalize on that*.  Therefore, I don’t have to listen to ads for Lent, buy special products for Lent, and start complaining about Lent decorations in late January.  More on Lent decorations in a minute.  However, Lent isn’t so foreign, at least in Catholic Massachusetts, that people don’t know what it is.  Nevertheless, few people care about Lent who aren’t fellow followers of Jesus, or practice any of the traditions.  Also, the significance lies both in personal change and devotion, as well as a communal acknowledgement of our collective necessity for self-discipline, change, and reliance on God.  Therefore, I find it public, but simultaneously exclusive; private, yet simultaneously communal.

Jesus praying in Gethsemene

Lent is a time for reflection.

This is a habit I’m diligently enfolding in my life with intent for behavioral change and spiritual growth.  It also means a few more lines to my check charts.  While reading in Mala Power’s 1985 book Follow the Year with Ethan I loved these lines,

The first day of Lent is named Ash Wednesday.  In nature many things have to wither and decay and turn to ash before new life can spring forth.  Early Christians held that before each person can experience the new life of Easter Time, he has to let some of his faults and bad habits die away and thus ‘turn to ash.’

Which faults and bad habits will I let die?

Lent is a time of being intentional. 

I acknowledge all that I have, and give up some of it for a season.  I’ll be giving up taking baths (but will not give up ‘bathing,’ don’t worry), an activity I love, and instead donating money to Charity:Water in remembrance that what I often take for granted, others don’t have at all.  I also want to kick some of my worst eating habits, such as eating after 8pm by re-framing it as “fasting after 8pm” and like many others, eliminate sweet things from my diet in favor of simpler food.

Another, harder change, one of the aforementioned bad habits and faults, is that I would like to stop be-laboring the point with my husband.  I’m not a nag, really, but when I latch onto a thing I wish he would change, it’s as though I’m attempting to prove the folly of his ways for a dissertation.  One hundred pages seems like just enough space to cover why leaving socks on the floor is the worst, most despicable, trait in the history of mankind. That is, until you get me going about leaving tupperware in his workbag.  I’d like to replace this negative pastime with a more positive one – like doing one special thing daily, such as actually taking my fair share of turns putting our son to bed.

Will I decorate for Lent?  Likely a few touchstones will make their way into our house.  A few years ago I created these items and wrote a blog post about it.  Perhaps adding a few pages to my altered book will help me spend time in reflection.  Searching for “folk art Jesus” and “Mixed Media Icons” have inspired me to try and fill what is currently a void.  If you haven’t heard about creating calendar nuns for Lent, you might enjoy this cute, brief, story and craft.  This website also details traditions for Ash Wednesday, many of which are family friendly, and other Lenten customs.

Will you celebrate Lent? Practice Reflection? Give up anything?


 

My brother-in-law has written several posts about Lent that I highly recommend reading.

Give Lent a Chance!

Is Lent Really 40 Days Long?

Bible Reading Plans for Lent

*My pet theory about MacDonalds filet-o-fish sandwich is that it’s designed for the 7 weeks Catholics can’t chow down on burgers.  I don’t want to know if that’s true.

Advice for the inbetween Times

Advice for the inbetween timesAdvice For The In-between Times.

May is a good time to give advice because people are looking for it:  Life changes happen a lot around this time of year: There are Graduations, Weddings and Babies, Apartment hunting, Job hunting and on and on. We may want to figure out New Years Resolutions on our own – but when things seem a little out of our control – and there are other people involved – we want some advice.

So, a little advice from someone who’s the veteran of quite a few life changes:

Answer the questions you can: When I entered college my major was undeclared, and by the end of the year I had switched it to English.

Why did I make that decision?

Looking back, one of the big reasons was because people didn’t know how to handle the label “Undecided” when they asked “What’s your major?”  Neither did I.  I wanted to be able to answer their questions, but I couldn’t.  I didn’t want to live in no man’s land. Of course, as soon as I switched my major to English, the question became “Oh, what do you want to do with that?”  Which, I also didn’t have an answer for.

People ask questions, and frankly, they’re just trying to make conversation.  It’s okay to say, “I don’t know.” If you’re afraid of shocked silence – you could also say “I’m interested in this (job, idea, movement) but I don’t have all the details figured out yet.” Your roles (or non-roles, like being ‘undecided’) shape you – but very few of your defining roles will last your whole life.

Make a contingency plan : Any information you gathered before you made your plan (no matter how exhaustive) is incomplete.  Before I got married, I quit my job to travel with my new husband; little did we know we’d be pregnant in less than two months.  I had made the job-quitting decision based on the best knowledge available.  However, the information I really needed – was a unknown.  Sometimes our best plans, best intentions, most carefully laid schedules are all based on information that can quickly become outdated and foolish.  At that point, cobble together a contingency plan, and go from there.

 Collaborate –I love the process of networking, but I hate the idea that I have to sell myself like a commodity. So often I find myself asking “Wait, what am I really good at again?”  If you’re confused about your skills – Back your friend’s projects.  Support their charity, champion their new business, read their writing.  It might give you ideas, and it will also create a support network for when you do figure out what you have to offer.  As one of my favorite writers, Gretchin Rubin, says, “People Succeed in Groups.”

 Something will always be the problem – No matter what changes in your life, there will always be something else.  My old camp director used to say “There’s always a harder camper waiting in the wings.”  The number one whiner of the week may have been sent home from acute homesickness – but the girl that wets the bed every night is just waiting to drown you.  Whatever your biggest problem right now – even if it’s solved there is another one waiting in the wings to take it’s place.  I find it helpful to, as Ann Vokamp says, Choose Joy.  Others would say to Focus on the Positive, but the idea is the same.

 These are four actions I’ve learned through my own life transitions – what are some things you’ve learned?  Also – who do you turn to for advice?

And, some recent great blog posts on advice I’ve been reading –

When is the best time to form habits?

(The spring 2013 story up until now – grad school up to my earsan attempt to prioritize – which brings us to…)

Habits.

Last week I had the pleasure of listening to Kelly Plosker speak at my local MOPS group.  She is bright, entertaining, hilarious, encouraging, thought-provoking, and authentic.  In short, she’s one of my favorite speakers.

She speaks often at our group – about things like vision, priorities, and how to keep yourself from going insane as the parent of a small child.  I love that.  However, this time, she spent a portion of her time talking about Habits.  I thought I should listen because I’ve been thinking a lot this semester about excellence and priorities, and how to live a good life by choice.  It seems as though, if these important things are to become second nature – the only way to do it will be through habits.

Most of the time I don’t think about my habits.  To be honest, I think that’s how it’s supposed to be.  These are your go-to routines, the bones of your day.  You don’t think about this critical framework…for the most part.

Kelly, she told us, Your habits are built during the easy times, so they will get you through the tough times.

And therein lies why she’s the speaker giving advice, and I’m the one listening and soaking it in.  Because my habits are usually just sort of routines I fell into.  I don’t much think about them, until they aren’t working. 

Because, in an ideal world, I would have done what Kelly suggests and created a habit when things were easy – when there was time, when I felt love and peace for the world at large, when I was getting a consistent 8 hours of sleep maybe, or had energy to spare?

In short – I would have started those habits 30 (or 66?) days ago.

But, mostly I fell into my habits the way people do – by accident.

So that I didn’t realize I had these habits – until they were already BAD habits – fully formed, taken root, and heartily thriving.

via Hannah’s Discovery.

A few of bad habits look like this:

– “checking facebook real quick” – and then spending an hour on rabbit trails down blogs and news stories.

– Of eating a snack after dinner that turns into one long nosh fest up until bed.

– Study interspersed with distractions and “breaks” that truly ruin my work flow, and create unneeded stress.

– Bringing up parenting problems  – as we’re running out the door, already late to events.

– Realizing my son thinks eating a meal means standing up and walking around… just like his mama.

It seems, for me anyway, that unconsidered habits are always bad habits – and I want to form good habits.

So, when is the best time to form correct habits?

The short answer is: Now.

The practical answer is much more complex – a whole blog worth of complex – because forming a habit is hard. Every good habit I have is the result of hard work and grit.  They are habits maintained in against the forces of time and tiredness, and with continual reinforcement.  (That’s a post for another time.)

Meanwhile, I’m going to work Now on those bad habits above – What about you?  Are there habits you have that just aren’t working for you? When do you think the time to work on habits is?  And how do you do it?

Other posts around the internet about Habits I’ve been reading:

Relevant Mag: 5 Things your Habits Say about you

Cracked: 5 Ways your brain tricks you into sticking with Bad Habits.

Storyline Blog:  How to change a Habit.

 

The March Celebration of Progress

The monthly review of how my New Years Resolutions are being thought and acted upon.

My resolutions have been driving change, small, good change, like thankfulness, and celebration.  I’ve kind of been realizing lately, that although it may be important to strive for authenticity, to search out how to live a life fully integrated and absolutely meaningful, it certainly isn’t always necessary to go to New Zealand and back to do it.  (Been there, done that.)  Sometimes, Salem, and the surrounding towns, are good enough.

That said, here’s how the goals are coming:

1. Lose 15 pounds – I lost two more pounds in March, and have been able to run for 20 minutes at a time two times.   I have been combining mostly walking and running on a treadmill, but I’m looking forward to running outside in April.  I’ve also got a story coming for you all about how running has been in my life for a looong time… and trying to lose weight.

2. Be a Better Friend – In March my husband and I went to three parties, hosted one book club meeting, and I met twice with my blog group.  I saw some faraway friends, planned a movie night, and met a couple new people this month.  Unfortunately, one my my mom groups fell apart.  That is, I think it did, since I didn’t see them all of March.  At this point, I can either decide to join another (brand new group) or attempt to salvage what is left of that group?  I’m not sure yet.   I’m realizing that this goal, which started out as “Make a friend circle” is mostly just about how to be a better friend in general, and what friendship looks like through life transitions like having a baby, getting married, and choosing a more differentiated life path.

3. Read 15 “Difficult” Books.  I’ve been reading Tolstoy’s Kingdom of God is Within You, the book that inspired Ghandi, Jane Addams, and indirectly Martin Luther King Jr.  It’s accusatory, incendiary, and revolutionary, everything you’d expect from a historical figure like Tolstoy.  This is my third difficult book of the year, if I intend to make 15… I’ll have to really step it up in the next 8 months!

4. Family First – Going places and making memories is a big part of what I think a family should do, but we were running into difficulty with things like fatigue, scheduling conflicts, and money woes.  So, my husband and I decided to switch off planning one activity each week which counts as “family time.”  This is an easy way to explore and doesn’t put all the pressure of planning on one person.  We also make an attempt to have events be free and local things, like Salem’s Book Swap a few weeks ago, and Winter Island on beautiful March evenings.

5. Practice Better Blogging – A bit of a dud in March, it continued to be really difficult to post with internet time limited to less than two hours each week.  I’m looking forward to resuming a more “full” schedule in April.  I’m also getting more and more excited about the collaboration going on for my group blog and our launch date sometime in June.

6. Be Part of my Communities – Big plusses in this area with my quest to pick up more trash off the streets, attend more church events (like our Square Dance!) as well as make a meal for a new mother.  As for being part of Salem, I visited the museum twice, made quite a number of purchases downtown (like at Mud Puddle Toys – purchasing some cars for Ethan).

I’m considering joining the Wicked Running Club in Salem this month… but we’ll see if I can run 30 minutes at a time, that’s my goal for an entry point!

7. Seek out Spiritual Wisdom  – This month I began reading Francis De Sales’ spiritual classic “Introduction to the Devout Life.”  deSales says that the devout life is the sweetest life one can live, and his book is a combination of tips and meditations.  I also joined a Bible Study which I plan to attend for the next ten weeks, at which point, I’m hoping to find a spiritual director.

8. Live Sustainably  – In March I tracked where we drove our car and what trips we took, and I’ll post that data another day.  I also SUCCESSFULLY cooked my first beans that didn’t taste awful.  If you remember, this was something I wanted to try in January, but I somehow managed to create an awful-tasting mess. Twice.  Not so in March, I purchased some Adzuki beans (which are quick cooking), and made a quinoa, bean, broccoli salad.   Success.  Oh… And we started using cloth diapers two to three times a day, talk about a successful month!

ReFraming Wind Turbines

A Piecing together of Wind Turbine News in Salem and around Massachusetts

Wind Turbines are a hot Massachusetts topic.  The Cape Wind debates have been ongoing since I was in high school, or a little under a decade.   Finally, last fall, a lease was approved for the land in order to put up 130 wind turbines off the coast.  These are expected to provide power for 200,000 homes, or three-quarters of the Cape.

A little closer to my North Shore community, Ipswich put in a wind turbine this year.  Additionally, there are plans for a wind turbine to be put in Lynn at the wastewater treatment facility. Here’s a small map of some of the other wind power sites in Massachusetts.

//update 2013: Since writing this post several new Turbines have gone up in Gloucester.

via massenergy.org

Now, I’m against rushing into decisions, even ones that are green, or support renewable energy.  Environmental impacts needs to be studied, and a balance struck between preserving existing structures and constructing new ones.

However, part of the reason for the debate over planting wind turbines on the Cape was the appearance of the turbines.  Perhaps over a decade ago, wind turbines seemed alien, something for farms in Texas, with hundreds spackling the landscape.  Their streamlined appearance maybe belied the organic roughness of the ocean.   They weren’t something rich Cape dwellers wanted to see from their oversize saltboxes.

However, Usually what we deem beautiful or ugly depends on what is familiar and socially sanctioned.  Marketing, familiarity, and the status quo have a big deal to do with our ideas of what’s aesthetically pleasing.

For evidence of this, feel free to reference ongoing debates about what the most attractive size is for a women’s body.  Another way of knowing how to react to structures is how they’ve been portrayed in art.  We’ve seen beautiful pictures of clipper ships, the Eiffel Tower, and Delicate Arch in Utah.  We know how to react to these things based on what others have portrayed.  Yet, in and of themselves, they are neither beautiful nor ugly.

How do we react to Wind Turbines? 

Artist Mark Beesley, from England, gives this representation below.

A wind turbine painted by Mark Beesley

Wind turbines are not something we’ve been taught to believe are beautiful, or that we often see painted in soft hues, with radiant lines and alluring balance.   This raises the question, is the landscape something unchanging – and our perception of it unalterable?  Is the possibility of renewable energy only perfect if it involves no landscape change?

Mark Beesley, quoted in Grist magazine in 2006 doesn’t think so.  “Beesley rejects the view that renewable energy must have zero impact. “I don’t buy this argument the countryside has to be preserved,” he said. “The landscape is constantly changing.””

I think we can go one step farther.  As the landscape changes, we can adapt of vision of what is aesthetically pleasing.  Though not an argument for sloppy design, functional can be beautiful, as boats are already seen, and often many skyscrapers.  The more we normalize and celebrate wind turbines, the more they can be seen as something beautiful.

Furthermore, our other producers of power,  coal and oil, can be equally unlovely, or lovely, depending on their portrayal.  The Salem power plant is by no means the feather in the cap of Salem’s waterfront, but it is easy recognizable and a touchstone of the harbor.

Salem Harbor Power Plant

The same could be said of the Friendship, or any of the hundreds of sailboats in the harbor.  They aren’t natural, but they do represent something.  A wind turbine can represent the power of a community pulling together in order to support one another from their own natural resources, something they have in common, coming from their own land.  And that’s beautiful.

If you are interested in finding out more about the Salem Wind Project, check out their blog.

If you are interested in finding out more about Wind Power in Massachusetts, check out the Mass Energy website.

Time out: Let’s Recap.

This past year has been a whirlwind-sandstorm for me, complete with limited eyesight and stinging sensations.

– I left my job of 2.5 years in order to pursue some personal academic and athletic projects and sort through future career plans.

– I got married.

– I worked on organic farms in Canada and traveled to a third world country where I was a minority.

– I got pregnant and as a result, had a baby, and became a mother.

– Lost 10 pounds, gained 40, and lost 20 again. So, that means I’m about net 10 from last June

– I worked really hard on this blog, and writing in general.

– Walked a fine line between financial despair and hope.

– Moved into an apartment with my husband and baby in Salem, Ma.

– Am days away from submitting my application to Graduate School.

All in all it’s been a tremendous year of role shifts and redefinitions.  Of writing Thank You notes and Praying for patience, money, and answers.  I’m not always sure about what projects and hobbies to which I want to devote my time.  Whatever I decide, it will include plenty of reading, and North Shore discovery, and certainly, plenty of uncertainty.

While you can yet still choose to change.

The more you age the more you gain wisdom, and the more you ossify.  This is hardly news to an osteologist, or a psychologist, but it may be news to a theologist.

Well, perhaps it isn’t, and I just wanted to string together words ending in “ologist” of which I have now exhausted my paltry store.

The more I read, the more phrases are thrown into the ocean of subconscious, and the more surprised I am when some smaller bits of driftwood work their way out of the riptide of general themes and onto the beach.

I read the book, Surprised by Hope earlier in the year, and though it’s addition to my conscious brain largely reoriented my perceptions about life’s best works lasting eternally and the restoration of soul and body, another small sentence has worked itself free from the waves and come to lodge into my daily living.

Perhaps I can’t even quote it exactly, but it goes a little like this, “But who says you’ll have the choice to change later anyway.”

Although a good chunk of growing up has meant sacrificing the ability to do everything, it has also meant that I understand I couldn’t do everything anyway.  The more conscious pigeonholing I do in my life, the more capacity for sadness and profound joy.

But you probably know that already.

What I didn’t know already, is that as life progresses there are some choices which you might not even be able to consider anymore.  This isn’t along the lines of choosing to have your own biological kid when you’re a woman in your 60’s.  To use a Christian cliché, it’s talk about hardened hearts.  Contemplating ways of thinking that aren’t yours.

A couple weeks ago in church my pastor told the story about an old man in his 90’s who was recounting his life story to a volunteer at the assisted living facility where he stayed.  The volunteer said to him, “Wow, you’ve certainly lived through a lot of change in your life” and the man replied “Yep.  And I’ve been against every one of them.”

That man was calcified.  But he had done so long before he hit his nineties, before his bones had hardened his mind had hardened.  These choices now, well, not to make them seem more weighty than they already are, but you might not get a chance to make them again, and you certainly won’t get a chance to make them in the same way.