It's not your Mother's Lent. Or mine. A friend wrote me yesterday to say she was starting my Lenten study for the umpteeth time that I wrote way back in 2011. Things have changed. A lot. And so, it occurred to me Ashes to Ashes, Dust To Dust, that I should re-visit Lent.
Normally, Lent is one of my favorite Biblical seasons of the year. A quieter repose. Right now, my life feels so rushed and crazy it's not a place I want to settle into. Lent. It means a lot of things to me. Most of them bring to mind a kind of solitary Thomas Merton kind of living. A lifestyle that takes time to reflect. Or a giving up of something - anything - that I might not be in the mood to give up. Sugar. Caffeine. Red Wine. Bread. Meat. Except Chicken. I've had a bout of food poisoning due to a suspicious chicken. Which is what caused me to miss Ash Wednesday services. And doing my radio show. All because of some mysterious chicken salad from a deli that has normally - great chicken salad. But there is the mysterious element of our lives that things can change at any moment. What was once the norm can become oh, no no.
Our normal is done away with in the flash of an instant. Our regular. Our routine. And, that can ultimately be good thing because routines serve their purpose but they can also get us lulled into a state of mind where we are moving at dark speed. Like, we are underwater. Just going through the motions. Where nothing really touches us. Not our emotions or our faith. All of it is commonplace.
Years ago when I wrote my reflections on lent it was for a reason. I had written a book about Praying for Strangers, a silent resolution I had that I never meant to carry out. But I did. And I spoke to people and heard their stories and wrote many of them down in a book that went on to be a bestseller in some areas and beloved by many readers who took on the practice as a spiritual discipline that they carry on to today. I did this for years - not just one - because I saw the results of it in the responses I received when I told people they were my special stranger for the day. I did this in a very Episcopalian way to put it in certain terms. Rock n Roll in others. That is I said it quickly - I do this thing - I say a prayer for a stranger each day before I go to sleep - today your my person - See Ya!
What that means is - it doesn't come off as very, religious in that kind of way. It does come off as sincere. And the story of what happened along the way is that people would stop me as I tried to get away to tell me, "You have no idea how much I needed to hear that today because . . . " or - "Funny you should choose me because . . . " or - simply, "Thank you!"
Over the course of that time I began to value the human heart a little more. No, a lot more. I started seeing through the plastic practiced faces we all wear out into the world. After numerous people went from smiling hello, Saying simple things to Thank you for shopping with us - to breaking down in tears - I realized wow, the whole wide world has a secret underlife going on that no one knows about.
April 2 I have a book coming out thats about being a southern novelist, working my fanny off as a human and as a writer (not literally because I have a maximus not a minimus) and about believing in signs and wonders. What I really want to talk about is fiction, southern fiction, hard driven southern fiction or that old - It was a steamy night in the city by the bay - kind of fiction. But it's Lent. And I have a book coming out called Confessions of a Christian Mystic which leads one to believe it may have 1) Confessions 2) that I'm a Christian and 3) a mystic.
Yes, there shall be stories about all of those things shared on the road. I'm gearing up so to speak. Getting my mind right as the famous line from Cool Hand Luke goes. And if you are anywhere in the neighborhood of one of the cities on tour I'd love to see you. More events are being added weekly so do check back but you can check out the events here. So, what could be a better time than to give my blog over to reflections on Lent. Which means living a messy, faithful life in the middle of all if it. And the ways we continue. And possibly embarking on 40 days of saying a silent prayer for a stranger. Because like the many churches that took on this resolution for Lent when PFS arrived I think I'll join them. Churches of all denominations. And by All I mean all and then some. And agnostics and atheists who said they would find a way to pray for stranger each day.
Lent. It's always been a good time for self-reflection and in that vein self-discovery. I hope these daily offerings, musings, and reflections are something that will offer you sustenance along your journey. Because words matter. And because we are on this journey together.
Me and my dear Mama. We are still learning to live together - again. When she cooks she takes a loooooong time. Even if she is just microwaving soup. This is why her microwave soup is better than mine. I want everything in a hurry. Because I am busy with other things. Many other things.
We like to watch different things on television. She likes Fox news. I prefer the BBC. She likes Family Feud. I like Orphan Black. But we both seek to find common ground there as well and we do. Like Grantchester. Since the season finale. I'm searching for a new weekly place we can call a truce and break bread together good old american style in front of the television.
So I was on my way home from running fourteen hours of errands. The last of which was to stop by PETSMART and buy an ELECTRIC LITTER PAN for mom's fat cat. She says changing it breaks her back. Changing it makes me angry. I'm the one that has to drag in the forty five pound box of cat litter weekly after wrestling it into the buggy and then out of the buggy into the car and out of the car into the house and by the time I get to the cat pan I am A LITTLE PUT OUT.
The cat hisses at me and swipes it's claws at me every time I walk past the bed after giving mom her morning medicine. This is the truth. My mom even says - why does she do that? I say I do not know. But it may be because I 'assist' her to go into the bedroom and close the door behind her when she is trying to throw herself down on the floor and NOT GO.
I have had cats and kittens all of my growing up life. Kittens are one of my first memories. My cat Moses that finally had to say goodbye was 21 years old because I kept him alive and alive and alive. That being said - when I walked into the Pet store and wrestled this 200 pound electric cat pan box deluxe edition with hood and auto scooper poopy thing into the buggy, a woman that worked there took one look at my disheveled tired beyond belief face and said -
"You are tired. Can I help you?"
"I hate my mother's cat."
This might not be the kind of response she expected.
"It hisses at me and swipes it's claws at me every time I walk past it."
She said she was sorry again and asked, "Has she been declawed? Sometimes that can make them mean and angry."
"No, we can't do that because we did it to a white Persian we had when I was a kid and she got out and then never came back and my mother knew she couldn't climb a tree or defend herself so it was a tragedy. It has always been a tragedy. Everytime declawing comes up we have to have a moment of silence for Beabea."
By now I have made it to the dog food aisle and appear to be wandering aimlessly. Lost in tragic memory.
"Beabea was a fine cat. My mom's cat is just a - - -"
"Mam, you are in the dog food isle now."
She thinks I've lost my mind.
"Yes, I know what aisle I'm in. We buy my mother's dog food here."
"Oh, what do you get?"
"Blue stuff. I don't remember. Maybe purple stuff."
"Does it look like this? Or this?" She is doing anything to 'assist me' out of the store.
"It doesn't matter. We just bought his food."
Her face goes from perplexed to perplexed on steroids.
"I'm looking for food for a rescue dog."
"Ohhhh, that's nice. Let me recommend this big chunk on special protein no gmo all natural 40,000 dollars a bag for a fifty pound bag."
"The rescue's name is Kevin. Kevin has heart worms."
She pauses. I'm her saddest lot customer of the day.
"Let me see if I can find you a coupon for you that will work."
"Yes, please. A coupon would be very nice."
She finds a manager to override the expiration date on the coupon.
I load the automatic cat litter cleaner with the fifty pound bag of dog food in the car.
After all of this I call mom to tell her I was finally on the way home. AND NOT TO COOK ANYTHING. Because I just wanted to unload the car and pour a glass of wine and watch Grantchester without the sound and distraction of cooking. It was too late. When I called she said I'm cooking chicken thighs. I told her - "Okay fine. If you insist on cooking Then I'm going to church."
I turned the car toward downtown and went to the Breaking Bread at 6 at Christ Cathedral. All because I just couldn't stand to go home and be homey. The service is CASUAL. Last week the priest said - if you have children with you - and then I expected the normal get up and take them to Sunday school but, No. He says just let them be children and make noise if they need to and wander around the sanctuary. They need to feel welcome. I'm thinking - HA! One trip with my precious little Damon will put an end to those rules.
Then we have communion up at the alter and the little children are comfortable being themselves. We get to the point in the service where the Peace is shared and everyone shakes hands with EVERYONE so there is a lot of peace going around. Then we move into communion and everyone is standing in a circle. There is a little girl screaming peesse peesse peesse over and over so I just close my eyes and look down and try to tune her out but she keeps screaming peesse peesse peessee in a two year old voice. Then the woman on my right taps me and says - she's trying to give you peace. I look up and it's the two year old in her mothers arms screaming peessee at me with her little hand stuck out wanting to shake. I shake hands with her, say Peace and she snaps her hand back. Business taken care of. No more chit chat.I go home. Have a tiny glass of wine. Then unload all of it in the house. I open the four thousand parts to the litter pan and begin to read the instructions.
They are too complicated. I leave it for tomorrow.
I pour more wine.
It's time for Grantchester.
Me and momma sit down and break bread over chicken thighs and rice.
The fat cat is locked in the bedroom. The dogs do not eat their expensive non-gmo dogfood. They stared at us with superpowerdogeyes and practiced their hypnotic mind games.
My hate for the cat downshifted to dislike. My like for that Granchester priest grew and for an hour something like peessee settled about the house.
Hope you are finding a little Peace in your corner of the world because it sure is something we need a little more of right now.
*Post script - The FAT Cat has used the auto box 57 times. It's suppose to last a month. It lasted a week. I changed the box last night. It weighed 10042 pounds. I hate that cat.
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