A couple of years ago, I gave up Facebook for Lent. It made the news-not the New York Times, of course, but some blogs anddenominational magazines.
And used up the time I'd imagined saving to be more contemplative giving interviews about why I was giving up Facebook for Lent.
Before and since I've given up meat, Diet Coke, alcohol. I've taken on singular spiritual disciplines, although at the moment I can't remember a one of them.
This year, I'm not naming a specific thing I'm giving or taking up. But in the spirit of the Ash Wednesday litany ("Know that you are dust and to dust you will return") and the Lent One Sunday gospel reading (the temptation in the wilderness as rendered by the writer of Matthew), I'm standing up and saying "no" to as many things of the world as I can.
And "yes" to as many things of the Spirit as I can.
Monday morning I was in Austin standing in front of the Trinity Episcopal upper school students during their chapel time, and as sometimes happens with speaking engagements, although I had given thought and several sleepless nights thinking about what I wanted to say to them, in the spur of the moment, things moved in another direction.
After playing a song by the great Steve Earle-who, I told them, had gotten in more trouble than Charlie Sheen and still managed to write "Jerusalem"-I realized the direction I wanted to go.
I talked about how our society tempts us around the clock with calls to be younger, sexier, more acquisitive, more powerful.
I talked about Charlie Sheen and Paris Hilton and how all that seems to be working out for them.
I talked about the necessity of paying attention to counter-cultural spiritual calls to the things that truly matter, to joy, peace, compassion.
And I realized myself that while Lent is going to be a ridiculously busy time for me with interviews and speaking and preaching and teaching and writing, that I could still be mindful, could ask myself in any given moment: Is this what I need to be doing?
Before I buy something I want but don't need, I could ask myself: Will this feed your soul-or just some conglomerate's profit sheet?
Before I open up the third Diet Coke of the day, I could ask myself: Is this the best choice for my body?
Before I sit myself down in front of the TV for the night, I could ask myself: Is this the best choice for my spirit?
Before I roll out of bed and dash for the shower, the beginning of a daylong dash, I could ask myself: Is there a better, more spiritually grounding way you could start your day?
Before I look longingly out the window at the sunny Austin day and decided I've got to finish this sermon or read these papers, I could ask myself: Wouldn't everything you have to do feel more joyful if you ride your bike to the park and work there instead of staying glued to your computer?
So this Lent, I'm taking on the practice of mindfulness across the spectrum of my life as father, friend, writer, teacher, speaker. It'll be a challenge, I know, and in some ways it would be easier to give something definite up than to decide to try to be more spiritual through Lent.
But this year, I think two things could grow out of this attempt, as imperfect as I know it will be. First, in attempting it, I believe I emulate Jesus, one of the reasons we do a Lenten journey in the first place. As I understand Jesus, his every moment was oriented toward God, a life lived in God, a reflection of God. And whether he was having a laugh with his friends or crying with a mourner or praying in the desert or sleeping, I believe at every moment Jesus was doing what was most needful for him to carry out God's work on earth.
Second, although my habits of the past have rarely stuck-I gave up Diet Coke for eight months following Lent once, and then couldn't remember why I'd done it, and this rancher's grandson is never going to give up a good hamburger for long-the practice of mindfulness is something I really want to restore to my ongoing Christian journey.
For many of us who serve primarily or secondarily in ministry, we may talk about God a lot. We may preach or help people worship. And we may fool ourselves into believing that our spiritual needs are being met through our vocations. But honestly, the only way to live a spiritual life that speaks to others is to live a spiritual life for yourself. We learned in seminary that to feed out spiritual energy to others without restoring it is a classic prescription for burnout.
If this Lent I could reclaim my orderly prayer life, if this season I could pay attention moment by moment to what is good for me and bad for me, if for the next forty days I could tune out the world's temptations even just a little bit better, that sounds like the kind of practice that I would hope to continue.
Wishing you a holy Lent, and praying blessings on you and all you love.
[Taken with permission from "The Other Jesus," the blog of Greg Garrett. Originally posted 3/8/2011]