by Francis Beaumier
Francis is an IT librarian and young progressive Catholic living in De Pere, Wisconsin – where he’s a member of both the Catholic Church and the Metropolitan Community Church. He is a member of Dignity Young Adult Caucus (DYAC).
I’ve always fought with Lent. Why would the church put such a focus on sin and suffering at a time when so much is happening with the transition to Spring (at least here in Wisconsin)? As part of my cranky reaction to Lent, I generally give a dismissive answer when someone asks, “What are you giving up for lent?” “I’m giving up,” I reply. It’s an answer that’s part “none of your business,” part “you’re asking the wrong question”, and part “oops I’m not quite sure what I’m doing for Lent yet.” But now with Lent more than half over, I’m ready to spill the beans: I’m trying to be more mindful this Lent. (This particular Lenten promise gets really fun when you happen to lose focus on a Sunday morning: “pardon me, I gave up mindlessness for Lent, but it’s Sunday, which doesn’t really count, so I’m really not paying any attention today.”)
Honestly, I believe that mindfulness is at the core of Lent. To help us be mindful, we are given various shocks to the norm that “force us awake.” My local MCC church has chosen a Wizard of Oz theme for Lent, and truly, “we’re not in Kansas anymore.” We have ashes, which make us mindful of our mortality and our outward appearance as Catholics. Fasting helps us be mindful of the gift of food (even fast food tasted especially good to me after Ash Wednesday this year), while abstinence calls for mindfulness of what’s in our food (this year I discovered that while my favorite clam chowder may be OK for Fridays in Lent, it does contain MSG, which I try to avoid). Finally, the Mass itself changes (there’s no Gloria, there seems to be more Latin, it gets longer on Palm Sunday and longer still on Holy Saturday, and even disappears completely on Good Friday), giving us a new mindfulness as we worship together.
In our Sunday gospel, the shocks to our systems are there: it’s so long that many churches invite the congregation to sit down; I’ve been to more than one church that has acted it out, and it happens to be about bringing someone (Lazarus) back to life! As spectators, we see the effects of a lack of mindfulness sprinkled throughout the story. Jesus tells his disciples that Lazarus is asleep (dead), but they don’t get it (John 11:11-14). He then explains to Martha that Lazarus will rise from the dead, but she doesn’t seem to get it either (John 11:23-27). Finally, Martha calls Mary, and the mourners think she is going to the tomb instead of to see Jesus (John 11:31). “Pay attention!” we want to shout.
So how has this goal of mindfulness worked out for me? It’s been tricky. At the very least, I’ve worked on giving myself some quiet time to let my brain unwind, finding time to reflect on my day, and eating meals without the computer or TV. Like any good faith goal, it’s a bit of a journey. As one of my Norbertine friends says, the important thing is to keep working at it.