One of my spiritual mentors was fond of saying that we usually experience rude awakenings before spiritual awakenings.
Someone else once said that before we take the scalpel to the eye of our brother or sister, we would be wise to invest in heavy equipment to extract the stubborn plank from our own.
Well, to employ a bad pun, I have been lumbering through Lent this year. Pounding my chest and unashamedly howling, Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa like some kind of mad Motor City Desert Mother.
For two long months now I have limped through the wilderness of a respiratory illness more unyielding than a Roman collar. I have been living the life of a grudging ascetic. A veritable monk subsisting on a diet of esoteric teas promoted on dubious internet sites, thin soups made of vegetables with names I can’t pronounce, and overbearing garlic concoctions that waft through the house like dollar store perfume.
I get better for a day or two or three, and then, like a sin I just can’t shake, it’s back – bigger and badder than before.
In the course of this, I have prayed, meditated, practiced painful yoga poses, denounced dairy, called myself a “hactivist” in a lame effort to heal with humor, and had hands laid on me by a Pentecostal herbalist in a downtown locker room.
And yet today . . . here I sit. Coughing. Next to a messy table cluttered with the sorry sacramentals of these past two months: spent Kleenex, a greasy Vicks jar, wilted tea bags, and a neglected calendar.
Which is what brings me to my point.
These eight labyrinthine weeks have brought us to the midpoint of Lent. To that deep purple of a place where one begins to realize that it may be time to bring on the bulldozer . . . it’s plank-removing time. Time to use the finger I’ve been pointing at others to pop open a can of yet another funky, algae-based juice and take a good, long look at the other three that have been pointing back at me. Time to get honest.
And this is where it gets tough for me this year.
Someone has to hear the confession of a wheezing old woman confined to her recliner this flu season, so it may as well be you. Here goes . . .
So, you see, no one has been as vociferous as I in complaining about the new translation of the Catholic mass. I mean vociferous with a capital “V” and that rhymes with “T” and that stands for “ticked.” Angry at the gendered language. Angry at the exclusivist tone. Angry over the awkward allusion to a story from Matthew that conjures up visions of my dentist more than Jesus the Healer. Yes, I intellectually understand the rationale, but what to do with the visceral reaction that arises like Lazarus each time I come to the words “for us men . . .”
Yes, I have had my struggles with the changes, but after subjecting sundry friends and family members to my less saintly side for several weeks, I finally made a decision to hold onto the Serenity Prayer like a rosary in a dead woman’s hands and just let it go.
I can sound my barbaric yawp over the rooftops of Rome all I like, but I finally had to accept the fact that my (currently husky) voice would be neither heard nor heeded by those making the decisions. It was time to let go and let God. Time to accept the things I cannot change and beg for the courage to change the things I can.
If I may employ a biblical metaphor, I decided that I had bigger fish to fry. There were wars to stop, injustices to address, a beautiful and broken world to heal. I put away my anger and quoted Augustine who said, Love God and do as you will and the Wobblies who were all about building something new within the shell of the old.
And so far, I have been doing all right with this.
Except one thing.
As hard as I’ve tried, I simply cannot embrace the and with your spirit that has replaced the old also with you. For me, this change is not political and it’s not literary . . . it’s downright theological. And that’s serious business.
If this is an honest confession, I have to come clean and report that more times than I can count I have angrily and self-righteously delivered bellicose lectures to anyone within earshot about the implications of this word change:
This is dualism. More Greek than Hebrew. More Plato than Moses. A way of severing body and spirit.
My escalating diatribe would usually crescendo with the damning pronouncement that THIS IS A DISEMBODIED THEOLOGY!
You see, I’m one of those material girls – in the Catholic sense. That means I come to God through the dust on Jesus’ feet, through the goodness of the bread, the sweetness of a sunflower, a teenager’s tears, and yes, a winter bug that won’t go away. Straight-up incarnational spirituality that finds God in all things and that beautifully and mystically holds together everything and more: male/female, rich/poor, sadness/joy, and in this case, body/spirit.
I tell my students that I came to God through a pink religious goods store that doubled as a candy shop. A holy place where rock candy and rosaries and statues and Squirrels and incense and ice cream awakened my seven-year old senses and pointed to something Transcendent. Transcendent with a capital “T” and that rhymes with “G” and that stands for God! All my life, it has been like that for me. God in creation. God in people, places, and things. Emmanuel. God with us.
Which brings me to my point.
I am aware that this rambling confession is beginning to sound like a poorly-written version of “Alice’s Restaurant,” but I am getting to the heart of the matter. The beam in my own eye. The thing that needs confessing.
So, this is all a long way of saying that while I am stuck here at home emanating eucalyptus vapors like a Tibetan mountaintop, I have had a lot of time to think about the accusations I have hurled at my brethren in the Church and was graced with a Lenten epiphany that cuts to the core.
What I have come to see – mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa – is that I am the one who has embraced dualism. I am the one who has been living a disembodied life. I have been judging others for the same sin of which I am guilty. Guilty as a result of what I have done and what I have failed to do. For many years now, I’ve been living out of my heart and head while dragging my body behind like a tired donkey on a rope.
In short, I have forgotten that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit and not machines that we can drive into the ground. I may have been Made in Detroit, but I was not made in an auto plant. I think I have forgotten that I am a child of God and not a chassis in a car. One night while sucking up recycled steam in a quiet bathroom, I realized that I take better care of my Taurus (and that’s not saying much!) than I do my body.
Like so many of my friends, I have jumped into my work with passion and love and heart and soul and spirit and mind and . . . yes, body. Until I hit the wall this winter, I really forgot about that last piece. The tricky thing is that the work is so very joy-filled and so life-giving that physical concerns were simply compartmentalized. Denied. Denigrated. Very easy to do when you’re having fun doing what you love to do.
The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.
This Lent has been a time of rude and spiritual awakenings. In addition to learning how to cook okra, I learned several other things these past weeks:
One cannot live on black coffee and potato chips alone.
The mandate to be still may suggest sleep.
Sabbath time is holy time. It is not selfish to take time off to relax.
There is a violence we do to ourselves and our world when we live a disembodied life.
Don’t make the mistake of telling your partner you want him to pick up Euthanasia tea when you meant to say Echinacea tea. This really rattled Matt for a minute or two.
I’m sure there are more but we’re only halfway through Lent.
So, for now, this is my confession. And, with or without the blessing of the Church, I’m sticking to it.
When I get over this thing, let’s take the time to get together for a cup . . . I mean . . . a chalice of coffee and catch up.
May God with be with me AND ALSO WITH YOU.
All of you. Mind, body, spirit.