February 13, 2013

Shrimp and Blindness

Ash Wednesday. My twenty-first Lent. Every Ash Wednesday I write some version of the same old post. So this year I won't. But if you want to read it anyway, here's a simple version and here's a more baroque one.

This morning I was praying on the fast today, and praying for inspiration about fasting during Lent. Into my thoughts came a memory and a new understanding. With the new understanding, came a new repentance.

The first real retreat I ever made was a Triduum retreat at a certain Benedictine Abbey. The priest who was chaplain at college had set it up for me. I remember Good Friday. There was Morning Prayer, some kind of conference, some blessed quiet, and then we were taken to the refectory for lunch. I remember seeing a big pile of shrimp on the steam table. I was totally scandalized, not only because I thought of shrimp as a festive food, but because I was shocked that there was any meal at all. I thought we would fast

But here's the thing: I had certainly read, probably many times, what the Church means by a 'fast,' namely one full meal during the day and two collations. But I had this idea in my head that fasting meant eating nothing. And because of the idea, despite having read and despite having been instructed, I just didn't hear the Church's teaching. And it never struck me that I was being unfaithful to the Magisterium by adhering to my own idea. Nor did I think to examine where my idea had come from or why I was so attached to it.

The whole scene of the lunch at the Abbey distracted me so much that I could hardly pray during the Commemoration of the Passion later on. I thought that the afflictive emotions I was feeling had come from being scandalized, but I was wrong. What I was feeling was an injury to my vanity and pride. I was not humble enough even to hear, much less accept, the Church's teaching, and when my experience of what I thought was supposed to be religious and devout didn't live up to my idea, my pious little world was injured.

So today I just pray for humility, for the eyes to see things as the really are, and for the willingness not to take myself too seriously, knowing that there are probably many ways in which I am still blind in my vanities and attachments.

Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? (Isaiah 58:6)

By the fast that is your own self-emptying, Lord, loosen the bonds that keep me from being the creature you created me to be, serving the least of your brothers and sisters in freedom.


Brother Charles said...

UPDATE: the journey is funny sometimes. As I have been discovering over these past months, religious life is a little bit different here in Italy.

Today I went down to the midday meal, which is the 'main meal' of the day here, at which there is always, according to Italian custom, a first and second plate, as well as wine and bread and cheese and sometimes even a dessert, and was a little bit surprised to see that all there was a plain vegetable soup. And it was a little bland too.

Had I encountered such an offering on Good Friday nineteen years ago, I would probably have thought myself edified, but I'm glad I didn't, because it would have been a flattered passion in disguise.

CJD said...

The Empty Water Jug by Macrina Wiederkehr OSB
Jesus, I come to the warmth of your Presence
knowing that You are
the very emptiness of God.
I come before You
holding the water jar of my life.
Your eyes meet mine
and I know what I’d rather not know.
I came to be filled
but I am already full.
I am too full.
This is my sickness
I am full of things
that crowd out
Your healing Presence.
A holy knowing steals inside my heart
and I see the painful truth.
I don’t need more
I need less
I am too full.
I am full of things that block out
Your golden grace.
I am smothered by gods of my own creation
I am lost in the forest of my false self
I am full of my own opinions and narrow attitudes
full of fear, resentment, control
full of self pity, and arrogance.
Slowly this terrible truth pierces my heart,
I am so full, there is no room for You.
Contemplatively, and with compassion,
You ask me to reach into my water jar.
One by one, Jesus, you enable me
to lift out the things
that are a hindrance to my wholeness.
I take each on to my heart,
I hear You asking me
” Why is this so important to you ? ”
Like the murmur of a gentle stream
I hear You calling,
” Let go, let go, let go! ”
I pray with each obstacle
tasting the bitterness and grief
it has caused.
I sit with my empty water jar
I hear you whisper
You have become a space for God
Now there is hope
Now you are ready to be a channel of Life.
You have given up your own agenda
There is nothing left but God.

Louis M said...

Nicely done, friars ;)

Wonderful reflection, sir, as always. :)