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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A Lenten Reflection

A note to readers -- this is one of my "serious" posts. I don't go deeply often here. Well, all that deeply. SO, I welcome your continuing on, but if you're looking for the art or cat pictures, sorry -- that'll have to wait!

Last week on her regular blog, Becca's Byline, our "Write on Wednesday" muse, Becca, posted a very thoughtful post, looking at Elizabeth Gilbert's "Eat Pray Love" and ruminating on the Lenten season. (And at this point, I want to add a special thank you to Anno for introducing me to this book hands-on! I'm saving it for my surgery!)

As I commented, I realized I'd written my Ash Wednesday post. Or started it.

As a child, I was raised as a congregationalist -- after hitting up almost every denomination I know of! It was pretty liberal, which matched my family's values, and even now that church doesn't really come at odds with my general beliefs. I loved being part of the choir, too. That was a big plus.

Our church was a large, Gothic-style building, built in 1864 (I believe) and adjacent to our state capitol. I was in awe just being there, with its oak pews, deep burgundy carpet and impressive pipe organ. Our choir master had been trained in England and his high standards bought our youth and adult choirs something of a reputation. It was a good place to be.

Then, on a cold February day in 1971 it burned to the ground.

Now, some 38 years later, a parking ramp stands in its place.

I remember that day well -- I was in a musical at MSU that opened that evening. My mother phoned me, to let me know. It was a bittersweet opening.

For several years, as our new church was being built, we attended services in the YWCA building adjacent to the old church. And then we had a new home -- contemporary in style. Beautiful, but cold.

For some years, thanks to our choirmaster, Dr. Richard Klausli, and our dear Dr. Bob Williams, a marvelous pastor and human being, I could cope with that. A church isn't the building, after all. But then they both died. A new pastor came and riled up the congregation which imploded and split apart in political wars.

It wasn't the place for me to be. How can one be part of a community of faith when one is so very angry?

And my ideas had changed as well.

I've never been dogmatic. My world is big enough for all ways of faith, and the religious wars in our world both confound and distress me deeply.

For years, I've had friends who believe everything and nothing. Two of my cousins have interfaith marriages. Rick's boys are still questioning and probably lean more toward humanism than anything else. Who am I to say one faith or belief is right and the other wrong?

I never think about people's faith when I meet or know them. I think more about how the tenets of faith in general manifest -- through compassion, honesty, tolerance and acceptance, that sort of thing.
I studied a lot of religions in college and read an awful lot of books about faith, spirituality, belief. I began to realize that for me -- and only me, unless someone else wanted to feel that, too -- that my spiritual view was in essence one grounded in the Christian faith but incorporating to a high degree many elements of other faiths as well.

As we enter the Lenten season and look within, I acknowledge my belief that God is within me. I know others may take offense at the analogy, and I don't mean it disrespectfully, but I think of Jesus as my big brother, the oldest kid, the son of God who got all the responsibility heaped on him. I'm just one of the kid sisters and brothers who had more opportunities to skate a bit and take a look at the examples set before me.

I was an only child and I didn't have sibling examples. But I've had the opportunity to watch siblings as I've grown older. I remember being at the breakfast table shortly after elder kid had some incident related to not handing in homework. The result was a failing grade. Younger kid commented, "I'm not doing that." There was modeling going on.

And we see it every day and in every environment. The office. The neighborhood. At home. With friends. And hopefully, we learn.

So, for me, faith and spirituality isn't so much what I do on Sundays as what I do every day -- try to be the best person I can be, fair, compassionate, honest, loving. thoughtful, gentle, non-judgmental. Not because I have to but because it is the right thing to do and be.

And some days I have more success with that than others. I can get overly sensitive. Frustrated. Snarky. But I try.

My faith is quiet. I don't talk about it much -- this may be the most in-depth look at it I've ever shared with others. Most people don't know I pray every night before I sleep. Or that I sometimes do during the day, as I ask for strength, peace, calm of spirit or for others.

Most people (probably you guys, too -- and that's cool) don't care. It's my thing. My personal thing.

You see, I'm never comfortable when one "has" to do things with all the rest -- the group prayer, the national anthem at the ball game, the pledge of allegiance. Yet it's not that I am unpatriotic or without faith. It just seems too personal to do as a group.

A long time ago I stopped "giving up" for lent. Instead, I decided to start "giving in" and "giving out." The giving out is anonymous donations or helping hands. Random acts of kindness. (Or Random Acts of Santa, as I call them in December.)

The giving in is giving into my own critic. Being gentler with myself. Not beating myself up so much for not being perfect.

Not having chocolate for eight weeks will only make a difference to me and my hips. One could argue that giving up buying art supplies will help my budget more than heal my soul.

Giving out and in -- those things might actually make a difference.To someone else, not just to me.

I will try to find happiness and joy in every day -- even with failing retirement funds, bad body parts, and tension at work. I will take "forgiving those who trespass against us" literally and actively -- even though around me blame and fault is dished around like a grafitti artist with a spray can.

And I don't plan to stop when Easter comes.

Next post I'll take you inside a magnificent mansion here!

(Photos of Plymouth Church were from the Capital Area District Library's website; the other pix are mine -- except the one of Rick and me, taken by our friend Yuka at Kamakura, when we visited the Diabutsu (Big Buddha). The others are from the mission at Carmel and the fresco is from a public building at Stanford University in Palo Alto, CA.)

15 comments:

Beth said...

Oh Jeanie, that is one of the best posts that I have read in a long time. I now know what kind of connect I have with you, besides the artsy one. I feel the EXACT same way as you do! I don't have to go to Church every sunday or to give up stuff for lent. My higher power, whom, I call God, is in my heart. I see him and his son, in my flowers, my family, our in all things beautiful. The things that are not beuatiful, I pray that one day they will be.
Excellent!!!!

jfrancis said...

In the end or rather before the end
what you do with Jesus is the only
thing that counts and all the other
stuff you mentioned will flow from
that if you get it right.
John 14:6.

Rosa said...

This was a wonderful post Jeanie. Sometimes it's hard to write about such things in such a public arena. I applaud you. I too don't wear my faith on my sleeve and find it very hard to handle it when people do. I was raised with no formal religion and was always told by my mother that God was my heart. I became Catholic and was baptized only after meeting the hub. I enjoyed the wonderful old rituals and we raised our boys Catholic. But, I have since become angry with the church for what it's done with priests molesting young children and our dollars going towards their legal fees. No more. We left it up to the kid to make his own decision last year if he wanted to be confirmed in the church or not. He decided to, which I am proud of. I feel it is up to each individual to find their peace, whatever and whoever it is with. I have always had peace within myself and find other religions fascinating. How can one be better than another? It's your own peace you must find. Thanks for a thoughtful post Jeanie! xoxo

beth said...

you can be serious anytime you want sweetie...this is your place !

and I feel just like you do....exactly !

BONNIE K said...

I liked the serious side of you and really agree with what you say here.

Oh said...

pictures. I always remark on pictures but I can't help it. I love these. the stone. the Buddha. the details. lovely.

and you have embraced the Lenten spirit. Feeling quite the same about so much of it and also in practice here in our home, I wonder if some of our faith and belief and how we handle it all must come with Wisdom as we grow and mature and experience stuff ... life.

Mary Timme said...

While my views may differ, I would fight to the death for you to be able to have them. I think that is what freedom in the political sense means. Whether we know we make choices or not, I believe we do and you have every right to make yours known. I thought you did a good job.

anno said...

Oh, Jeanie, this is just a perfect expression of the generosity and grace I find here every day. Beautifully said, friend.

Jane Rosemont said...

Bravo, Jeanie. What a wonderful way for me to start the day, learning more about you AND hearing you say words that need to be expressed openly MUCH ore often than they are. Namaste, beautiful woman!

Joanne Huffman said...

Lent is traditionally a time of contemplation and re-evaluation; I think you are a strong voice for that. You can never underestimate the strength and power found in listening to the still voice within. And, the power of prayer is strong for many reasons. I think this was a very well thought out and honest post and I value it.

Joanne

Mike said...

Jeanie: This is a wonderful piece.

Thank you for your sincerity, compassion, and humor which are the clear expressions of a truly spiritual woman.

I do not believe that we humans can fathom the mind of God. In the face of the mystery of our existence--why there is something instead of nothing--I believe much Like Einstein did,in a greater intelligence behind it all but not in a personal God who keeps score and meddles in our daily lives. The guiding principles demonstrated by Christ, Buddha, Moses and Muhammed --love, compassion, and charity are not exclusive to any one faith. They are free to all who will avail themselves.

Judy Winter said...

There is nothing wrong with a serious post, especially one like this. This is a beautiful, heartfelt post, good buddy and one well worth reading, regardless of your beliefs. The photos are beautiful, too. I agree with you on the Lenten season being about giving out and to others, not about denying our own selfish ways. Jesus was one cool guy and he's in my heart and soul and an example for all that I do, too. We are all human, and continual works in progress. You have a great heart and soul, the best gifts we can share. Blessings. xoxo

Becca said...

So much of this resonates with me, as you might expect :) A spiritual life depends on much more than the ritual and rules. As you said, it's more about what you do every day and how you treat others.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts..I loved reading them.

Anonymous said...

I never talk about my current Lenten discipline, but I will mention that last year's was walking an identical two miles every day while listening to Jon Bon Jovi's "It's My Life", over and over. It's a perfect pace for clipping along, and you can do two miles in 35-40 minutes, depending on the length of your stride.

Which is to say: the point of faith is freedom rather than constriction, openness and acceptance rather than a closed mind and rejecting heart. Your post communicated that beautifully, and was a wonderful day-opener for me!

shoreacres said...

Whoops! More coffee! I'm the "anonymous" who left the previous comment!

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