Wednesday, March 9, 2011

LENT OR THANKSGIVING?

In the year of my 76th Lent, I feel more of a need to make affirmations about the inexhaustible nourishment I’ve received in this life, rather than concentrate on the things I should give up in observance of this season. True, the longer we live, the more we need to be instructed in how to live, but, for me, it doesn’t include marking the year by making a list of my petty needs (otherwise called wants), declaring that I’ll give them up for a time and presto, I’ve earned the title of "Queen of Lent." Where I left myself, I found God;” says Meister Eckhart; “and where I found myself, I lost God.” I’ll hang with that idea this Lent, and furthermore...

One of the publications that comes to me each month, courtesy of a friend, is a magazine entitled "Science of Mind," which has nothing to do with my Anglican identity, but which has given me much spiritual insight, and, at times, provides me with fodder for sermons. In December, the magazine published an issue about the blessings of the season and the power of gratitude, and this morning while clearing out papers and periodicals for my inevitable transfer from New Iberia, Louisiana to Sewanee, Tennessee for a spell, I discovered the issue, just in the nick of time for Lenten resolves.

Since I am slightly overweight, I suppose that I should be giving up food and an occasional glass of wine, or some physical comfort. During the 1940’s Evelyn Underhill, the great Anglican mystic, who resided in England where temps are often frigid, advised her Lenten retreatants to give up warm baths, hot water bottles, and other creature comforts. Although I love Underhill’s works and quote from them frequently, I don’t believe in the kind of physical austerity that characterizes many of her Lenten rules.

My preference is toward cultivating some practice or reading, some affirmation of life that has been lacking in my personal life and in my relationship with others during this time of reflection and prayer. The German theologian Helmut Thielicke once said that "American Christians have an inadequate theology of suffering,” and perhaps he’s right, but I prefer a more positive theology like the one put forth in the magazine mentioned above.

The magazine contains an article about gratitude entitled “Gratitude Is A Gift We Give Ourselves,” by a woman named Margaret Stortz. She relates that in every season, every day of our lives, we are given the choice to live a small life or a great life, and a lot of that depends upon our ideas about gratitude. She retells the story written by a Christian Scientist named William Rathvon entitled “The Devil’s Auction.”

It seems that the Devil or Beezlebub, or the Author of Evil, whatever you call the "wrong side," planned to go out of business and advertised that he was selling his tools to whoever wanted to buy them at a good price. He set them out for auction-goers to see, and among the display were: malice, envy, hatred, jealousy, carnality, deceit…the seven deadly sins and more… and each bore a price. However, another tool lay to one side all by itself. It was worn-looking and priced higher than the others. It was labeled “Discouragement,” and a buyer asked the Devil why it was priced at such an exorbitant price. The Devil’s reply was that it was more useful to him than any of the others. With it, he could pry open and get inside a person’s consciousness when he couldn’t get near that person with any of the other tools. Once inside, he could use this tool in whatever way suited him. It looked worn because it had been used on almost everyone. Well, the buyer asked: “On whom could you not use it?” The Devil hesitated, then admitted, “I can’t use it in getting into the consciousness of a GRATEFUL man.”

You can give up chocolate if you want to, but I think I’ll use affirmative prayer and gratitude during this season. A good start would be to begin the day with the sentence, “I am thankful for my life because…” I can frankly say that I don’t start my day in that manner, and this “fill in the blanks” affirmation would be a good discipline for me. That’s my idea of enlarging my spiritual life during Lent.

The painting above is an explosion of color that, to me, symbolizes a burst of gratitude. It was rendered by my brother Paul who lives in northern California.  I'm grateful for his painting talent as many of his renderings appear on my blogs and on the cover of some of my books.
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