Today is Ash Wednesday, marking the beginning of a 40-day journey toward Easter. This has always been an important time in my year, one that in the past was characterized by attempting to give something up and making an outward show of repentance. That is what was required, and I was always an obedient child in that respect. But for about 15 or so years now I have been on a slightly different journey with Lent.
It began in my freshman year at college as I spent much of Lent barely conscious in my dorm room with an undiagnosed illness. March passed me by completely, and I was barely convalescent by Easter. Walking outside was a miracle, and I felt that I had experienced a resurrection of my own as I went to church. It was a literal shift in thinking, but it planted seeds that were nurtured for many years before coming to light. In 2003 I was part of an amazing experience called the Micah Project. This is an intense discernment year hosted by the Diocese of Massachusetts and held in Boston. During that time I was surrounded by spiritual friends and teachers in a way that I had never experienced before. They saw me with fresh eyes. Having just been diagnosed with a mild (are they ever mild?) eating disorder in the weeks leading up to Ash Wednesday, my internship mentor and spiritual director both suggested that, having proved how capable I was of denying myself, I needed to take on a discipline of self care for Lent. What? I could do something like that?
Since that challenge seven years ago, my Lenten discipline has been less about denial and more about what I can do to nurture my soul and reconnect to Spirit. This year I will be doing several things, at least one of which will challenge me deeply as it comes up against some of my fears.
One: obey my doctors. This is a difficult one, because at this point I have an MRI, a Venigram, and a Spinal Tap scheduled. The last is the worst, because I have not had a good recovery record from them previously.
Two: take care of myself. While this includes such exciting things as taking Level 1 Reiki training (just two more weeks!), it will also challenge me to play (not something I am good at) and to examine my relationship with myself through an experience of Radical Self Love.
Three: make time to connect deeply with Spirit. I have been so shut down with my fears and illness that I have not made the time to do the things that nurture my relationship with the divine.
Appropriately to me, Jamie asks us on this Ash Wednesday
Where do you wish to make a difference?
Having said all of that about Lent and Journeying, I wish to make a difference first and foremost within myself. I struggle with self-loathing and a host of other things that tear me down, and I have come to recognize that until I can treat myself with true gentleness and love I cannot truly treat anyone else with gentleness and love. I grew up hearing the entreaty to "love thy neighbor as thyself" but have only now learned that in order to love my neighbor I must love myself. Otherwise, even though I treat those around me with utmost respect and love they will look at how I treat myself and wonder if I am secretly judging them, tearing them down in my heart, and that doubt will poison the gifts I am offering.
My greatest desire is to make a difference in the lives of others who struggle; to be a beacon of hope to those still in the darkness. So I am preparing my lamp to shine brightly.