by John Forman
I sat down to write this on Mardi Gras. Well, having spent the evening with my daughters watching an old Star Trek, I can’t really call it a “Fat” Tuesday…more of a chubby Tuesday or maybe a Tuesday who occasionally uses food as an emotional crutch…much like the excess of boyish enthusiasm spilling over my beltline these days.
I guess it came closer to a “carnival”, from the Latin “carne evil,” meaning “the meat’s gone off, so let’s not eat it for a month.” We now, of course, more generously translate the phrase to mean “goodbye to flesh,” in recognition of the traditional practices of dieting (although this Lent is so soon in the year that I haven’t even had time to finish procrastinating on my New Year’s resolution) or the omission of meat from one’s diet.
Now because we live in a largely Asian neighborhood, we’ve incorporated local customs into our own. So, for example, in recognition of the concurrent Chinese New Year – the Year of the Rat – we have sharply curtailed the consumption of all rodents for the entire Lenten season…a practice I have high hopes will stick with us substantially longer.
I grew up, like many people who survived childhood, thinking that Lent was primarily about giving up those things which brought you the greatest joy…chocolate, gin, jazz and hanging around with people of questionable moral fiber, such as clergy. Until, that is, I met a priest who shall remain nameless – although his initials are “Charles Ridge” – who taught me an entirely new way of thinking about Lent.
As we sat merrily doing our rosary with hot coals strung on barbed wire and trading fleas for our hair shirts, Charles also managed to introduce to me the deeper meaning and opportunity of Lent. In all seriousness, it has become a time of increasingly profound joy for me. What Chuck taught me over the course of several years was that it isn’t the things, events or people themselves so much as it’s the reshaping of our relationship to them that we undertake in Lent.
It’s a lightening of the load as we run toward God…a readjustment of our response to the first great commandment. Have we put God first among all our relationships? Do we love God with all our strength, all our minds, all our hearts and all our souls or are there one or two things that have slipped up the priority list for our time, attention and energy?
I was doing some reflection last week on our recent Foundations course on Forgiveness and preparing for Lent (as a Benedictine oblate, I am required to submit my intended Lenten practices to my Abbot each year for his approval). I found one or two encumbrances…situations with two people that I had not yet fully reconciled so that they could take their proper place as lesser than my relationship to God. To that end, I found and adopted a prayer, which I’ll be praying daily on their behalf (and for my own softening and growth) as a part of my Lenten practices. I’ve already sent it to Chalice, our prayer team, but I’ll share it here with you in the hopes that it may be useful to you as well:
“May you be happy
May you be free.
May you be loving.
May you be loved.
May God bring you to the fullest completion that God’s love calls you.
May every fiber of your being resonate to the glory to which God calls you.
May you experience the fullness of peace in body and soul.
May you know God in all God’s goodness.
May you forgive every transgression.
May I forgive you with all my heart and soul.
May you know what it means to be a child of God.
May you experience the glory of possessing the kingdom of God.
May you walk in peace and fellowship with all God’s creatures.
May every blessing be yours.
May goodness and love show themselves in everything that you do and in all that is done to you.
May you be one with all of God’s creation.
May you experience the blessings of God’s grace for all eternity.”
A blessed Lenten season to you all!
John Forman is a member of St Paul’s who serves at the altar, leads St. Paul’s intercessory prayer team and is a Eucharistic Visitor. Outside of St. Paul's he is a Benedictine oblate of Mt Angel Abbey and an organizational development consultant and executive counselor. John is the managing partner of Integral Development Associates.