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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Mardi (& place your other favorite days here) Gras

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday. Aujourd’hui, c’est le temps à laisser les bons temps rouler. This means two things: a) staff meeting today, but enough about my problems, b) and it’s choir practice day, which can only mean a party. One simply doesn’t have rehearsal on a night like this without the opportunity to consume mass quantities. 

In my choir, we may miss a note or two, but we never miss a party. We never met a carbohydrate we didn’t like. We had more time to fatten up before Lent this year than last: one might say, we were given a jubilee of weeks, during which we might drown our winter blahs in fat, carbs, and sugars. This might be regarded as a Septuagesima of Satiety, to use the jargon of another era, preparing for the jejune rigors of the forty days. So we come to rehearsal to bring the jubilee to a close. After all, what is “fasting” if not an anagram of “sing fat”?

One can, if one is I, go on for a while about the waxing and waning of weight, only there’s not much waning to talk about, which is a weighty matter. As is Lent. It seems like a fairly shallow approach to Lenten asceticism to deny oneself in order to lose weight. But looking at the same set of data from a different angle, I can see how the weight thing is a symbol (in the fullest sense of the word) of being “too much,” of using too much, overreaching into the cosmic pantry from which all should be sharing equally. Being full all the time, in any way, doesn’t leave much room, literally, for God, who moves into the quiet and void places in which one waits. I mean, it’s not all about food and eating, of course, we can and do fill up and are overweight in all kinds of ways — our time, our attention, our allegiances. We can be kind of bloated, super-sized, in ways that bump up against and overpower other people instead of being aware of them and tending to their needs. We (I) can get so consumed by consumption, by holding myself and all my needs and wants together, that I’m rendered ontologically incapable of agape. I can’t pour myself out for you, because I’ve forgotten how. I have to hold myself together. 

So, what is Lent for then? I suppose I’ll be thinking about that in the rhythm of the liturgy over the next six weeks or so. The “turning” that is conversion, I’ve come to believe, is about choosing one’s God. It’s a political decision, which seems more fitting in even-numbered years when Mardi Gras coincides with local elections or Super Tuesday and a fistful of political primaries. And then, this Sunday’s gospel, baking in the hungry desert heat, givies us two opposing theologies of “election.” Whom are we going to believe in? Whom do I believe in? And by “believe,” I have to mean what the gospel means: to love (agape) with my whole heart, soul, mind, and money. 

At the Easter Vigil, I will vow, again, to follow the Jesus and serve his mission, the mission of the paschal God. This is the God of self-gift, the trajectory of whose life is one of complete outpouring, whose incarnate Word was killed as a enemy of Caesar in the world of god named Tiberius, and, wondrous is the telling, was raised up again. Do I want to follow that trajectory? The self-emptying of God is such a black hole at the center of my universe that I feel that I have no choice but to enter it, that it is my destiny along with all of creation, but also that I need to pay attention to all the signs of life beyond that event horizon. “For your faithful people, life is changed, not ended.” That goes for the living as well as the dead, because God is life. It is the lesson of the Messiah, of all the heroes, saints, mystics, and martyrs in every time and place. The company is good, the journey is worth taking. It’s the leave-taking, the first step, that’s the doozy. The bigger we are, the harder we follow, as it were. 

How do I make room for this God of Jesus in this behemoth of body and ego that stuffs itself into my suits? It appears that scripture suggests fasting happily, making room in the body, praying emptily, making room in the mind, and giving generously, making room in the heart and pocketbook. And really, it’s all kinds of fasting, isn’t it? Not to take anything away from food fasting, because that’s crucial as a physical metaphor especially, but fasting from everything that flows from self-preservation and self-aggrandizement. Fasting from everything unloving. How can I stop passing judgments, the million or so I make, every time I read my news feed, or serve at mass with others who have a different piety or discipline or outlook about the liturgy from mine, and whose every word and gesture grate like fingernails on the blackboard of my heart? Confront or sublimate? What is love’s path for me here? “Love is patient, and kind, it’s not rude, it doesn’t put on airs....” And this from the pen of a guy who was imprisoned, beaten, spat on, shipwrecked, lashed, mocked, and ignored in a dozen different countries he had risked his life to visit. Surely if people like me have found a way to love and forgive their enemies, I can find a way to live in peace and harmony with people who ought to be my friends in Christ? Why does that have to be so hard? 

I know it goes back to this Catholic thing about needing to be right. At least I’m aware of it, that has been a gift of the last several years of reflecting on it. If needing to be right is wrong, I don’t want to be right. I want to be like the God who did not even cling to godliness just to be “wrong” like us. 

Enough. A few short hours before Lent starts. I think i need a little less “theo-” and a little more “Rio.” Since the weather threatens a cold rain, maybe ice and snow, I must seek refuge where there are promises of warmth. Thus, I shall prepare choir practice, this week, by setting out taller wine cups, and plates big enough for paczki and king cake. ☺

**Full disclosure: I wrote this post a few years ago, but never published it. So I updated it a little bit, and put it out there today for the fun of it. Things are better for me, but it's true enough!