I’m not Catholic. I almost wrote that I am “not particularly religious,” when I realized how that statement somehow lacks a basic truth. There have been times that I’ve believed in God, and times that I have not. It’s not so much that I doubt, it’s that I have simply come to the conclusion that I don’t know, and I am open to whatever the answer turns out to be. (Except for hellfire and damnation. Even when I did go to church, I went to the Lutheran church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America does not do hellfire and damnation. I understand that even the Pope in Rome is starting to let go of such ideas.) This little essay, then, is not about religion; though it may settle for awhile in a pew, contemplating ritual.
Today is Ash Wednesday. Yesterday, in the throes of Shrove Tuesday, different friends mused about what they would give up for Lent, the 40 days leading up to Easter. Quite a few of them chose chocolate, and that is apparently quite a popular thing to give up for Lent. It used to be that many people gave up eating meat. Some people give up television, or beer, or Facebook. I thought about giving up argument. This would be a tough one for me. I have a natural tendency to teach; and a very shallow tolerance for ignorance.
But then I did a little research and I discovered something about Lent that I never knew before. (Remember, I didn’t grow up in the church.) The notion of Lent is not just one of penitence, but also one of contributing to the greater good. The whole point of giving up chocolate, or meat, or beer is not just one of self-denial, but is also supposed to enable you to give those things (or the money you’ve saved from not buying them) to someone in greater need. Perhaps the question then, for all of us, ought to be not “What are you giving up for Lent?” but “What are you giving for Lent?” In an essay, by the Scottish Vicar Rev. Canon Gordon Reid, he suggests that instead of giving up something for Lent, one can take on something extra, and it too should serve the greater good.
Like the little drummer boy, I have no gold to give. Or meat. Or chocolate for that matter. I have only my song, the drumbeat of my fingers across the keys, the tales of my people, the thoughts in my head and those in my heart. So I am Writing for Lent.
And apparently there is a tradition for writing for Lent. People write daily devotions, they write prayers, they keep special Lenten journals. There is a long-standing custom for people to write letters to those for whom they wanted to mend a difference, often a letter a day to the same person. (Frankly, I can see how that last one might go badly awry.) In each of these instances, the church recommends reflection and repentance. But borrowing a leaf from the Reverend Canon, it seems that my own reflection and repentance is less of a gift to the world than love in all of its myriad forms.
In that spirit, I am going to write a different short essay every day for 40 days, and while I am writing I will try to keep in mind that these are supposed to be for the benefit of others. That is, itself, the greater test. Because certainly there is a selfish component to this as well: I have a much larger project that is overflowing the “in” box, and I have had a very difficult time getting down to it. Sometimes just getting back in the habit of writing every day every day every day can help you find your way to that which truly requires your full attention and best efforts. God only knows I’ve had plenty of excuses for my indolence.
I don’t imagine that I will be able to fulfill the true mission of this every single day. There will be days when I write about things that benefit no one, or perhaps I will write something because I am angry and upset. I am human, and like all the rest of us, I sometimes have feet of clay. But I will try, and in that effort is my humble gift.