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.

Complicate the Holidays!*

Two years ago I finished Bill McKibbon’s book Hundred Dollar Holiday and received my first Center for a New American Dream‘s newsletter in my email inbox.  They both issued clarion calls to Simplify!

Today I realize, I still want urge other to contemplate something more counter-intuitive – instead – Complicate your holidays.

complicate the holidays

Here’s what I mean.

What both of these speakers want is a reduction of stuff at the holidays, particularly some sorts of technologies, expensive new clothes, mass produced cheap shit, and anything else you might buy on Black Friday.

But, they aren’t alone in those types of sentiments.  Actually, everyone wants a simplified holiday! That’s the advice on the cover of every single magazine in November and December – how to make your hosting simple, cooking easy, and workouts lightning fast, and still lose five pounds!But the real reason you’re trying to cut down on the stuff? So life can be little more complicated. How so?

Because the things we’re talking about replacing those items with are Complicated.  Things like:

  • Friendship
  • Gratitude
  • Volunteering
  • Thought
  • Celebration
  • Peace

The list of suggestions to simplify your holidays starts with something extremely personal and precious, and yes, complicated.

 It starts with giving your time.  Whereas I can always earn more money, and will, I can’t earn back any of my time.  In giving time, suddenly we find ourselves committed to drawing closer to that person.  By engaging with other deeply by sharing our time – we may find out the truth behind the easy veneer we all often paste over our messy lives.  We might be pulled in – and in the process bind ourselves more closely.

Though choosing the perfect holiday gift for someone does require some knowledge of their preferences, so often we don’t think about what we give at the holidays.  We just pull what looks good off the shelf, to fulfill an obligation.  Spending time with others instead, is a surprisingly one-size-fits-all gift that is tailor-made.

And what about using our time to make gifts, something crafted, baked, or constructed?   If we choose to give gifts made of our time and materials we will also need to redefine our values.  Especially the ones we’ve received from unceasing advertising.   We will no longer be able to stomach slick and (worse still) cheap.  We certainly can’t prize perfection, because home made isn’t mass produced with machines.  If we’re complicating things by preparing a meal from scratch, we can’t prize efficiency too much.  No one wants a microwaved TV dinner for Christmas, however fast it might be.  And, if we’re complicating things by purchasing used gifts, we had better not have too much pride.  Giving someone a gift that has been used is a little exercise in humility.

Simplifying Complicating the holidays boils down to community – which is messy, time consuming business. 

So, Complicate on folks, it’s only December 5th November 24th and there is one more month filled with plenty of complication left (and 12 more after that if you like to keep on celebrating past Epiphany as do my Anglican readers.)

*This post was originally posted on December 5, 2011 – but updated on November 24, 2013.

Thanksgiving Tree

Like many Christian women I enjoy reading Ann Voskamp’s blog, A Holy Experience.  I don’t particularly envision myself becoming a prairie wife or mother of 6, but for her commitment to grace and thanksgiving I find myself coming back over and over.  Her ability to see art in the everyday, and to (as she wrote about in her book) live right where she was placed are inspiring.

When she posted her Thanksgiving Tree project earlier in November, I knew I wanted to do my own version.  Rather than print out the well-chosen verses she provides, my husband and I used scraps of paper left over from other projects in order to detail just a few of the many blessings we’ve been showered with this year alone.  I cut out 18 leaves, but honestly, I could have cut out 4x more and we’d still be filling them out.

Three ways to Get Through Halloween with Sanity Intact

Due to my multiple roles in life – mother, student, graduate assistant – I find that I don’t have time to generate fresh content this week.  But, looking backward to the archives I’ve pulled out two of my favorites for this week, corrected some grammar, edited the pictures and put it here for your enjoyment.  This post below discusses some of the problems with Halloween and the state of Holidays in America.

Vegetables in Disguise

The Hallowing of Holidays (originally published November 2, 2011)

I may have mentioned that I live in Salem, city of the month-long Halloween celebration.  But every celebration must culminate at some point, and Monday was that day. At 6:30 as I was walking around in my “mom” costume, baby strapped firmly to my front in the carrier, the bands were beginning to play, and there were already thousands of people on the streets.

It’s easy to get up on a soapbox about several problems with Halloween.   Two big ones immediately present themselves:

Waste generation: Halloween is second only to Christmas in this regard with it’s single serving candies and costumes.

Feminism:  The hoards of scantily clad women of college age, and unfortunately younger and also older can be found next to their fully covered and often un-costumed male “escorts” (not always the paid kind, luckily.) (ed. note. 2012 – For more reading on this, check out Rebecca Hains’ post on the topic here.)

Vulgar, but accurate.

However, when you are milling about with those thousand other people, it’s hard to keep a grin off your face at the sight of a man in an “Octopi Wall Street’ costume in Salem, and the generally playful attitude.   Furthermore, as evidenced by the reaction to the street preacher with the megaphone reading about fornicators, it’s hard for anyone to take you seriously delivering sermons during festivities (no matter how serious).

But I propose three things thing that should be done between holidays as we look forward to other seasons.

1 – Remember and Rest.

Look at the pictures you took, play with your acquired items, or eat them.  Peruse other people’s facebook albums.  Have everyone over again to remind them what fools they made of themselves.  Send a thank you card to the hostess of the party you attended.  Clean up your house, balance your budget, and sleep in for a few days.  Under no circumstances rush out to buy Christmas gifts.  I know, the merchandise is already in stores, and has been since early October.   I also know that this is the way that most stores make the bulk of their money.  But, this is not okay.  It detracts from the rest that we need, as well as makes holidays everpresent, cheapening them with consumerism.

2 – Make Holidays Short.

Get the gear out of stores until three or four weeks before the event.  Don’t sell Halloween candy before the back to school stuff is put away.  I haven’t seen a store without some holiday sale… well probably in my whole life.  This subtly tells us that the normal state of our lives should be to party.  Wrong.

I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t enjoy life.  However, party state dictates that we live beyond our means constantly.  Party state suggests that we stay up and forego sleep.  Party state suggests that ritual and routine should be avoided.  Party state suggests we should eat far too much and eschew fasting.  Party-state hates balance.  This is sickly living, paying for today with tomorrow’s earnings.

3 – Celebrate Creativity over Consumption.

This is the type of living that champions costumes crafted from clothes you already have, and one or two pieces that you bought.  It’s the type of hilarious outfit dreamed up by a friend of mine who dressed as her sister, borrowing the clothes from her secretly.  At the party her sister came in, complaining that she couldn’t find her favorite sweatshirt, only to see it on the back of my friend.  At Valentine’s day there are homemade cards, and at Christmas, gifts that involve time, not money.  Not everything needs to be homemade, but neither should there be nothing that is.

All of these things should point toward the more important part of holidays, people.  Rather than stuff, competition, and consumerism, relationships should be one of the focal points of all holidays.

Thank you for reading some of my previous thoughts, I find them still timely and accurate.  I also appreciate a look at the sanity that returns to Salem, Ma once Halloween-Town is packed up and put away. 

If you enjoyed this post – you may also enjoy: Transition to Plenitude – A discussion of a New American Dream

Complicating the Holidays

Thinking about changing the way you celebrate Christmas? Read on.

I finished reading Bill McKibbon’s book Hundred Dollar Holiday and I received the Center for a New American Dream’s newsletter in my inbox.  They both issue clarion calls to Simplify!

For several paragraphs though, I want to willfully ignore their rhetoric, and phrase things in a different way, a way that might seem a little counterintuitive.  Instead of simplicity, let’s talk about Complication.

What both of these organizations want is a reduction of stuff at the holidays, particularly some sorts of technologies, expensive new clothes, mass produced cheap shit, and anything that a fun-busting type character might point out with a dour frown, “well, you can’t take it with you.”

But the things we’re talking about replacing those items with are Complicated. Note the capital “C.”  Those are things like Relationships. Time. Energy. Thought. Care. Patience.  For example, the list of suggestions to simplify your holidays starts with something extremely personal and precious.  Your Time.  Whereas I can always earn more money, and will, I can’t earn back any of my time.  If I were to gift someone a party I would reckon that’s at least 10 hours spent on invitations, baking, and cleaning, not including attending the actual party.  That time might double or triple for teaching someone a skill (the third suggestion.)  Though choosing a holiday gift for someone does require some knowledge of their preferences, committing to spend a dozen odd hours of them will both deepen your knowledge of them and cement your relationship further.

It will also drive home some of the things that are frustrating about people.  I hate to be the holiday kill-joy here, but there are certain habits our familial relations have that are annoying.  I can’t name anything specifically about my own family, because my sister reads this blog but let’s just say my family’s not perfect either.

Complicating things is worthwhile, but it does require redefinition of some of our values.  For example, if we’re complicating things by making gifts, we certainly can’t prize perfection, because home made isn’t mass produced with machines.  If we’re complicating things by preparing a meal from scratch, we can’t prize efficiency too much.  No one wants a microwaved TV dinner for Christmas, however fast it might be.  And, if we’re complicating things by purchasing used gifts, we had better not have too much pride.  Giving someone a gift that has been used is a little exercise in humility, for the giver, and the givee due to some stigmas created in society.

I think simplifying the holidays here boils down to community, which is messy, time consuming business.  I’ve been appreciating this blog lately, and the woman who has been using December to promote community each day.  That’s complicating her life, I’m sure.  But in a good way.

So, Complicate on folks, it’s only December 5th, and there’s 20 more days for complication left (and 12 more after that if you like to keep on celebrating til Epiphany.)

Keeping Warm with the Arts

Holiday Craft Fairs, the Beverly Art walk, and Felted Sweaters Galore.

As the weather is finally getting nippier, it’s also getting fantastic-er.  With what you may ask?  The Beverly Art Walk!

I remember having a conversation in 2009 as I returned from the Salem Film Fest with a friend that while Salem has tons of history and tourist attractions, Beverly had an art college.  It was just that… the city was wasting it’s jewels by keeping them locked up all the time.

Apparently not anymore.  This weekend brought a slew of Art related events in Beverly.

The Beverly Art Walk with 15 possible stops showcasing tons of Montserrat student art, as well as plenty of other artists in restaurants, cafe’s, and galleries.

In addition to that, the Porter Mill Studio had it’s first, and they dare to say, annual Holiday Open House.  Here’s hoping this is very true, especially since I was working, and could not make it.  Alas. Their pictures from blogspot made me so curious, but I will have to stow my curiously until a later date.

Porter Mill Studios in Beverly

Finally, my stop at the Montserrat Holiday Sale brought me to the brink of buying a concrete cupcake which looked delicious enough to devour… only to turn out my pockets and realize I was cashless.  Sad Sad Day.  I would have enjoyed having that confectionary in the middle of my table.  Even worse,I have no pictures of it.  You’ll have to imagine a very heavy, stiff pink frosting-ed cupcake like something your punk rock best friend would have made you.

I’m loving late November and early December for it’s strong focus on local arts and crafts.  Every weekend there’s a craft fair in sight, and it’s beautiful to be able to see the inside of others’ brains laid out on a table.   Don’t miss out this season on what others have to offer, especially as you might be inspired to make something yourself.

I certainly have been, happily turning wornout, no-elbowed sweaters I have into an approximation of these bird ornaments.

Felted Birds via http://artplatter.com

The Hallowing of Holidays

Three suggestions for putting holidays into their proper place in our lives.

I may have mentioned that I live in Salem, city of the month-long Halloween celebration.  But every celebration must culminate at some point, and Monday was that day. At 6:30 as I was walking around in my “mom” costume, baby strapped firmly to my front, the bands were beginning to play, and there were already thousands of people on the streets.

It’s easy to get up on a soapbox about several problems with Halloween.   For starters two big ones. Waste generation; Halloween is second only to Christmas in this regard with it’s single serving candies and costumes.  Feminism; plenty of scantily clad women, many college or high school age, next to their fully covered and often un-costumed male escorts.

However, when you are milling about with those thousand other people, it’s hard to keep a grin off your face at the sight of a man in an “Octopi Wall Street’ costume, and the generally playful attitude.   Furthermore, as evidenced by the reaction to the street preacher with the megaphone reading about fornicators, it’s hard for anyone to take you seriously delivering sermons during festivities (no matter how serious).

Octopi Wall Street via daviddust.blogspot.com

Yet, now that the holiday is over, I would like to propose three things that should enhance rather than degrade their enjoyment.

First, in between holidays, let’s Remember and Rest.  Look at the pictures you took, play with your acquired items, or eat them.  Peruse other people’s facebook albums.  Have everyone over again to remind them what fools they made of themselves.  Send a thank you card to the hostess of the party you attended.  Clean up your house, balance your budget, and sleep in for a few days.  Under no circumstances rush out to buy Christmas gifts.  I know, the merchandise is already in stores, and has been since early October.   I also know that this is the way that most stores make the bulk of their money.  But, this is not okay.  It detracts from the rest that we need, as well as makes holidays everpresent, cheapening them with consumerism.

This is my second suggestion.  Make Holidays Short.  Get the gear out of stores until three or four weeks before the event.  Don’t sell Halloween candy before the back to school stuff is put away.  I haven’t seen a store without some holiday sale… well probably in my whole life.  This subtly tells us that the normal state of our lives should be to party.  Wrong.

I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t enjoy life.  However, party state dictates that we live beyond our means constantly.  Party state suggests that we stay up and forego sleep.  Party state suggests that ritual and routine should be avoided.  Party state suggests we should eat far too much and eschew fasting.  Party state hates balance.  This is sickly living, paying for today with tomorrow’s earnings.

Finally let’s Celebrate Creativity over Consumption.  This is the type of living that champions costumes crafted from clothes you already have, and one or two pieces that you bought.  It’s the type of hilarious outfit dreamed up by a friend of mine who dressed as her sister, borrowing the clothes from her secretly.  At the party her sister came in, complaining that she couldn’t find her favorite sweatshirt, only to see it on the back of my friend.  At Valentine’s day there are homemade cards, and at Christmas, gifts that involve time, not money.  Not everything needs to be homemade, but neither should there be nothing that is.

All of these things should point toward the more important part of holidays, people.  Rather that stuff, competition, and consumerism, relationships should be one of the focal points of all holidays.