Just prior to being spun sideways on I-696 last December, I was congratulating myself for being so together this close to Christmas. “I’ll even be able to go to the gym right up until Christmas,” I said to myself. A week ago I was patting myself on the back for not getting a cold or the flu this winter. Forty-eight hours later I felt the tell-tale tickle in the back of my throat and the exhaustion that comes only with illness.
The Time of Lent is a poignant reminder that we are not in control and that we are limited. This runs in opposition to the messages with which we are bombarded on a daily basis. “For only three easy payments of $29.99 you can have the body you’ve always wanted.” Most of us have neither the DNA nor the genetic predisposition to have that body. Send the money to a charity as almsgiving, and work on accepting and loving yourself as you are. “You can be or do anything you want.” Lent, however, brings the sobering reminder that we are limited by our ability, time, character, health, circumstances and countless other ways. “Let nothing stand in your way.” Yet saying “No” is not being “a quitter” or being rude or selfish, but rather it is honest, sensible and fair to others and one’s self. “Be self-sufficient and independent,” but limits instruct us to value one another; that the rewards of cooperation are greater than those of competition and that interdependence makes us stronger than individualism.
Lent is unpopular, even among Catholics, because it is at odds with our self-indulgent, “What’s in it for me?” way of thinking. That makes Lent a perfect time to get acquainted with the apophatic tradition. “The apo what?” That was my reaction, too, when I was introduced to this school of spirituality. I had already been drawn to and inspired by many of its practitioners long before I knew it had a name or was a “school.” Essentially, the apophatic tradition is the way of negation, reminding us that our limitations and failures can be as life-giving as our gifts; that we learn and grow as much from our weaknesses, perhaps even more so, than from our strengths. Most of the spiritual figures that inspire me, along with novelists, poets and dramatists are in this tradition.
Fasting is the expression of negation in this Time of Lent. Though there are only two required days of fast on our Catholic Calendar, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, many fast more frequently. We give up food or something else to remind us of our limits, our not being in control, of our need for and dependence upon God. We fast to get in touch with the gifts and blessings that our limitations bring to us. Our hunger and our longing is a reminder that our deepest hungers and longings can only be met by God, not in accumulating more stuff, making money, being popular and so forth. These are all indicators of a deeper, spiritual appetite, which is often starved, while we fill to excess our shallow cravings.
This week’s “mercy moment” is from the 14th century mystic, Julian of Norwich. Read it slowly. “Mercy is a sweet, gracious working in love, mingled with plenteous pity: for mercy works in keeping us, and mercy works turning for us all things to good. Mercy, by love, suffers us to fail in measure and inasmuch as we fail, in so much we fall; and inasmuch as we fall, in so much we die: for it needs must be that we die in so much as we fail of the sight and feeling of God that is our life. Our failing is dreadful, our falling is shameful, and our dying is sorrowful: but in all this the sweet eye of pity and love is lifted never off us, nor does the working of mercy cease. (Revelations of Divine Love, ed. G. Warrack (Methuen and Co., 1901).
If you are able, please GIVE BLOOD NEXT MONDAY, March 7th. Sign-up sheets are in the Gathering Space of the church.