“Fasting from singularity and feasting on interrelatedness”
When I (front row, second from left) went to kindergarten, I had a chance to meet other little girls. I had been the single girl in my neighborhood gang of boys.While they were great friends, they weren’t particularly interested in dresses, hair dos and playing house.. So kindergarten gave me my first chance to play dress up and dolls. Fortunately, in those days, kindergarten was purely about socialization and not at all about academics.
My class was very economically diverse. Joyce, the little girl seated to my right lived in a house with tar paper siding. Some kids came to school in very old clothing. Two years later, my parents bought a house in an affluent suburb full of identically privileged kids. I was not to meet such a diverse set of people again until I left home.
I loved kindergarten because it exposed me to all sorts of kids. I disliked the conformity pressed on me at my next school. As an adult, I chose to live in an economically and ethnically diverse neighborhood. I go to a church which serves homeless people and women in fur coats.
May we extract ourselves from our “selfies” culture long enough to realize we are not much alone. May we thrive on our commonality with others who appear to be quite different from ourselves. May we be as excited to meet new people as I was to find out that there were other girls!
“Fasting from isolation and feasting on interdependence”
It’s a hot summer day and my little brother is confined to a play pen so my mother doesn’t have keep an eye on him while she is in the house. Play pens were common in the 1950’s, so this was normal. Still my brother is unable to get his own drink. He is isolated, in a sense, behind wooden bars. I am older, free to run around, and able to pour my own Kool-Aid. Somehow I recognized his thirst and went over and shared the strawberry drink.
While we may often think about how to end our own isolation and connect with others, this photo reminds us to see those around us who are isolated. Many are behind bars, either literally in jail or figuratively being caught up in pain and distress. In that case, the isolated ones can’t reach out to us. We have to be the initiators of connection and demonstrate the value of interdependence.
May we be aware of those around us who are isolated by their circumstances and offer them at least a “cup of cold water.” Connection accompanies the water and is, after all, the more important part of the gesture.
“Fasting from shame and feasting on goodness”
At four I was a confident little girl, happy to show off my birthday umbrella and pose in my party dress. I was surrounded by my friends in the neighborhood and played freely across several back yards.
Shame sets in for all of us, I think, for various reasons at various times. Shame tells us that there is something fundamentally wrong about who we are. Shame also encourages us to send our shame out to shame others. We subconsciously want them to feel as bad about themselves as we feel about ourselves. So we reinforce each other’s shame about body size, income, gender, physical characteristics, intelligence, decisions, partners, children, houses and jobs. Most of us have a little insecurity about at least one of these things, and shame is ready to cling onto it and whisper that we really are not all right.
Shame thrives in the dark as we compare ourselves(always unfavorably)to others. The good news is that it evaporates in the light. Twelve step groups know that sharing secrets kills shame. So do simple actions such as saying “This is hard for me. Can you help?””I struggle with my kids.” “My real life is nothing like Facebook.”
May we come out from the shadows of shame and let our goodness shine. I was able to do that at four, after all.
“Fasting from conformity and feasting on diversity.”
Thanksgiving Day in November is a chance for my family to embrace its differences and eat together in peace. We have broccoli and rice for the Alabama native. I prefer the English mashed potatoes and green peas. The gravy includes giblets which gross out my grandchildren. Half of the family is vegetarian, which accounts for the Dutch oven with a roasted Tofurky. The other half likes Butterball turkey with its injected salt. Cranberries are whole berry, having won over the one who likes cranberry sauce out of a can complete with the ridges from the can.
One of my favorite exercises when I taught English at the community college was asking students to tell me what they absolutely HAD to have to make it Thanksgiving. What dish would be immediately be missed by their grandmother? The whiteboard filled with an astonishing array of foods from ham, to goat, to turkey, to pulled pork, to fish. The starches were from all over the world. My students were amazed by how some foods they disliked were very important to some of their classmates.
What they all agreed on was that having those particular foods eaten with people they loved made it a feast. None of them felt compelled to change their dinner plans after hearing about other choices. Nor did they belittle one another as they realized that they each had deep emotional connections to very different foods.
May we look around at our neighbors and in our community and be equally grateful for the many ways human beings express their unique identities. May we stop and realize how blessed we are to have this bounty of difference.
One of our Friars, Fr. Tom Gallagher O.F.M, has challenged our congregation with a series of seven fasting and feasting suggestions for Lent. None of them involve food, cell phone use or Facebook. Each day for the next week, I will highlight one of these and share my thoughts about how I am responding to the challenge. I especially like that these are all applicable to all people, not just Catholics, since I know that a majority of my followers aren’t Christian.
“Fasting from apathy and feasting on engagement”
I treasure the curiosity I exhibit here as a friend of my grandfather’s introduces me to a baby porcupine he has rescued and is hand feeding. While I am naturally cautious, I am responding to the invitation to approach and engage. There are many prickly issues right now, and I am surrounded by them in the U.S. I certainly recognize my desire to ignore the turmoil. Sometimes I even surrender to the apathetic stance of “what can I do, anyway?”
I am encouraged instead to engage with the cultural dialogue. I can risk offending gun advocates, for instance, by sharing my views on the accessibility of guns here. I can assert that there is such a thing as truth when some tell me everything is relative. I don’t have to do any of this with the motive of changing anyone’s mind. I just need to engage.
May I have the courage I had as a little girl when approaching today’s “porcupines,”
Lest anyone in New England breathe a sigh of relief and imagine that Spring is around the corner(that would be me!) please read the above. Yes, you got it. We are about to get hit with another round of snow. Well it has been known to snow in April, so this isn’t too unusual. However, it had reached 50 degrees F yesterday, so I had actually switched my heaviest jacket for my second heaviest jacket. And I actually wore shoes instead of boots. Fortunately the snow blower is operating. My windshield wiper which broke in the ice has been replaced. My boots are still in the front of my closet. My heaviest jacket, hat and gloves are still easily retrievable.
If you are enjoying Spring, keep it to yourself!!!
I have a dental checkup every six months. The hygienist cleans my teeth, the dentist examines my teeth and I get back on track with my home dental care. I know I should floss. Who doesn’t know they should floss? But I get forgetful and eventually realize I am about to see the dentist and furiously try to make up for lost time. Which, of course, is impossible. Fortunately, my dental team never shames me, just reminds me of good practice and says they will see me in six months.
Lent is like that for me. I know I should focus on God, pray, help the poor and focus less on me,me,me. I should quit seeing people with opposing political views and my President through hate-filled eyes. I should take time to be quiet and really appreciate my life. I should remember that that woman on the street could be me without the gift of medical care I have received. But I forget. I get preoccupied. I get angry and demonize the opposition.
Fortunately, once a year the Church has 40 days set aside to remember these things. God isn’t interested in shaming me any more than my dentist is. God just wants me to remember good practices. Lent is a yearly opportunity to do just that and I am grateful.