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Lenten discipline: Part 1

21 March 2011

I have a history of taking on Lenten disciplines of epic proportions. I’ve never been one for half-assing anything I do, and I’m intensely competitive with myself, so I tend to set the bar high and then test my own resolve to persevere. For instance, the first year I did Lent (freshman year of high school, while I was still a Southern Baptist) I gave up all drinks except water. All was going swimmingly until I went to DisneyWorld with the marching band and had to endure 90˚ humid Florida weather in a wool suit after having been in winter back home and returning to it three days later. Needless to say, I got sick and had to lessen the intensity of my discipline so that I could get juice and other fluids into my system. Other previous disciplines include giving up cursing and meat, both of which were rather ambitious.

What I realized last year was that this “giving up” was actually not really making any extra room for God, which is what the whole Lenten discipline thing is supposed to be about. This is not the medieval notion of self-mortification, but self-denial so that self might take a backseat to the Divine. How was my eating a veggie burger instead of a hamburger allowing the Divine to be present? It wasn’t. So instead, I chose to pick up something for Lent last year: praying all four hours of the Daily Office for the entire 46 days. But the bar was set so high that the discipline became a burden, and I ended up not doing it at all after the second week in. So much for making room for God.

This year, I aimed a little bit lower and decided that my discipline would be daily Mass. The Church of the Advent offers Mass every day of the week, and I work six blocks away, so I could easily eat lunch at my desk and go to Mass on my lunch break instead. The struggle would be Saturdays, when I would have to get to the church from the other side of town by 9am, too early for anyone in their right mind. But this would be my task, and I could do it.

My initial impression so far is that it’s not nearly as difficult to go to Mass daily as I had imagined it would be, which is a nice change. Instead, I find myself looking forward to going. On the downside, I am discovering how quickly the same words and same actions repeated over and over again (no matter how beautiful and majestic) can lose their meaning; this isn’t always the case, but at least one day a week so far I’ve lost my connection with the service midway through.

But the value of showing up and sticking with it is equally apparent as the sacramental reality begins to root itself in my daily existence. Daily Mass is proving what I always intellectually consented to: that Time does not exist in any significant way, at least not linearly. Every day, I come to that same table, to that same feast, back to the moment of that same sacrifice which took place at one moment in time, but continues to repeated over and over, aligning all times to that one particular moment. It’s a re-presentation; it makes present again. And time has to bend to this. Instead of a interminable flow, time is shown as a series of events that folds over on itself, that turns and turns over, that merges and then tears back apart. Nothing really progresses. It’s only our point of view from inside time, or rather under it, which gives the notion of progress. Around that table, we come to that one table, that one sacrifice, that one time with everyone who has ever gathered there, to re-present that pivotal act. And time stands still.

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