Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten Season. Lent and Advent are the two parts of the Catholic liturgical year that I appreciated and continued to acknowledge long after I was no longer a practicing Catholic. I think they were a part of the faith that my 7-year-old childlike mind was able to grasp from the catechism and the Latin mass of my youth. It's pretty easy for a child to understand the concepts of waiting and giving up that are fundamental to Advent and Lent. This year, a bit of synchronicity preceded and guided my approach to Lent.
Recently, I watched two of my children take on rigorous dietary changes. Though they were following different plans, there were similarities in the diets in that both advocated cleansing and organic food choices. Being ready for a dietary change, I investigated both approaches and decided to try the one my son had worked with-- in part because it resembled a diet I had done in the 1970s. Though it calls for some pretty significant changes from my current diet, I thought it was the more feasible of the two for me.
I geared up to take the plunge. Raleigh gave me some handouts related the diet and answered a number of questions I had. I’d already eliminated coffee, and then I quit eating dark chocolate. I was looking at few other food habits that I wanted to deal with before I actually started the diet when I got an email that decided my start date. The message was from a list I joined a few years ago that leads subscribers through reflective exercises related to Advent. This year, the list was offering something similar for Lent. WHOA!! Lent is about fasting. That’s when I’ll start my diet! So today is my first day of the Maker’s diet, a 40 day cleansing diet which will take me right up to Easter.
Of course, there is much more to Lent than my limited 7-year-old understanding of giving something up. About 15 years ago, I read a book about Lent in which I learned that it involves 3 major features: fasting, prayer, and alms-giving. HMMM, maybe I should incorporate the prayer and alms-giving in with the diet plan.
I had never felt very confident about the act of praying, so a few years ago, I took a workshop on prayer. I returned to the book from that class and was tickled to remember that it asks for a 40 day commitment to exercises that explore facets of prayer. Perfect! In conjunction with the diet, I would redo the prayer exercises as part of my morning spiritual routine.
Alms-giving was next, which fit directly into the Bodhisattva work I’ve been doing for several years with my Buddhist teacher. Practicing generosity is considered foundational in this work. I would revisit the teachings and related “homework” from earlier classes regarding cultivating generosity to complete my Lenten commitment.
I feel wide awake and conscious as I step into this robust practice.