My family moved from a quaint little town not far from Erie, PA, to a small paper mill town on the Androscoggin River in Maine. My father, an electrical engineer, was perhaps, taking a step up the corporate ladder. Just shy of my third birthday, my mother, my two older sisters and I traveled by sleeper car to our new home. The change was a shock for most of my family, which at that time included five children and my grandfather in addition to my parents and various pets.
I was the youngest and it was my innocent good fortune that I did not carry any preconceived ideas into this beautiful, untarnished part of our country. Indeed, it was magical to me. I loved the snow, the crisp, fresh air, the people, the endless woods and giant rocks. Nature was my refuge, a means to escape into a world that I understood and that fed my soul. I was mostly invisible in my family and in the house, and so I found a freedom of expression in the great outdoors, where I could connect deeply with my life force.
Raised in the Episcopal Church, we attended weekly services at the local parish. Many of my friends were Catholic, and while my immediate family paid little attention to Lent in a practical sense, it became a tradition/ritual that I took on each year with heartfelt commitment. During Lent of my third year, I decided to give up sucking my thumb, and as a symbolic gesture of that commitment, I gave my favorite blanket to my “younger” cousin. The first night, as I drifted off, I was aware of the absence of my usual comforts, but I held fast to my decision.
To my dismay I awoke the next morning with my thumb in my mouth. I had faltered, let myself down…and it was in my sleep! Oh, no! In spite of my disappointment, I continued on. I made it through my very first Lent without any further mishap.
I bring this story up for a reason. I remembered yesterday that it is Lent. As you probably know, Lent is a forty day period of time during which many Christians prepare themselves for the celebration of Easter. It is a time of fasting, prayer, repentance, moderation and the focused practice of a spiritual discipline. While I long ago gave up following the Christian Liturgical calendar, it strikes me that my life has come full circle, that there is some sort of serendipity involved in my recent dietary undertaking at precisely this time of year.
Spirituality has been a central focus throughout my life, though I shoved it aside during my thirties and forties. At mid-life, and particularly over the last several years since the accident, I find I turn more and more to spiritual teachers, to prayer and meditation, to the larger spiritual force that lives both within and without; I turn there for strength, guidance and understanding.
I no longer live within the structure of the Christian tradition. I find it too limiting, too often off-center, but I will always be drawn to, and see the value in many of the religious traditions, practices and theologies. They have deep, symbolic meaning in a world that has lost sight of its existence and power.
A period of fasting is a century old practice in most religions, and my experiences over the past week have reminded me of its value. Food is a life-giving substance, without which we could not survive. In our world of abundance, we have lost touch with this, both in a very real sense and a symbolical one. It is a gift of the earth that nurtures, restores and fills us, something for which we should be grateful. When we take it for granted, become numb or indifferent to its connection to our life force, we run the risk of forgetting that we are mere mortals. In the process we not only overlook the gift of abundance, we disrespect and overlook another very important gift – our body, and all of the abundant blessings it provides.
We are not just our mind, or our heart, or our soul, just as we are not only our body. We are all of those things, and as we strive to respect and care for each, we care for the other.
Lent is a reminder. Fasting is a reminder. Each helps one gain a new perspective or awaken an old one we may have forgotten. Taking a step back from, or outside of, our day-to-day viewpoint offers us an opportunity to get things back in balance. We need those opportunities. We need to provide them for ourselves when we can.
Dorothy 3/15/2014 copyright
Day #1 – I’m a Coward
Day #2 – The Morning after the Night Before
Day #3 – There are No Words
Day #4 – Coming Full Circle
Day #5 & #6 – Hyped Up and Nowhere to Go
Day #7 – The Body, Mind, Spirit Connection