Category Archives: Holidays

Happy Lent!

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Happy Lent!

Granted, it’s not the happiest of times in the Christian calendar. The Lenten tunes in the Episcopal hymnal are singularly dirge-like. “Forty days and forty nights, thou wast fasting in the wild…” Zzzzzzzzzz…

But growing up, I learned to actually “celebrate” the season, much as I would celebrate Christmas or Easter, though with obviously different undertones. Whereas one might celebrate the latter two seasons joyously, Lent is perhaps more appropriate celebrated quietly, piously. It is a time, nonetheless, for celebrating life and the divine spark that inhabits it. There are different aspects of our spirituality, of our relationship with our higher power, but all are worthy of being celebrated and experienced to their fullest.

I was taught that, when giving something up for Lent, one should choose something that is truly a sacrifice. For instance, I would never have the slightest problem giving up cauliflower. Giving up sweets or television, though, truly felt sacrificial (at least from my admittedly middle-class, suburban perspective). Eating fish on Fridays felt like the cruelest form of torture (especially if the fish were in a form other than sticks!).

I am grateful for the parish priest who challenged us to make our sacrifice permanent—to consider Lent not a temporary exercise, but the beginning of a lifelong habit. Even more importantly, in my mind, I learned to take something on during Lent, in addition to or instead of giving something up. One might institute a new healthy practice, like walking or meditating, incorporating it into their daily life during Lent and then continuing well beyond Easter morning.

Toward the middle of the Easter Vigil, the church service that takes place on the eve of Easter Sunday, it is traditional for worshippers to ring bells during the singing of the Gloria. It is a part of celebrating the resurrection of Jesus, signaling that moment in the proceedings as the transition from Lenten sobriety to Easter gaiety. (Hooray, we can sing “alleluia” again!) It is tempting to view the raucousness of the ringing bells and booming organ as a celebration of the end of dreary Lent but, in fact, it is a celebration of Christ’s victory over death and the beginning of new life.

The notion of Lent as a time to improve upon our spirituality is one that we can seek to emulate, regardless of spiritual or religious affiliation. This is a good time for all of us to consider doing something new, or something more, or something differently, with an eye toward making a permanent change for the better in our lives. Ring your bells, toll out the news that you are rejuvenated and ready to pick up the pace as you walk the spiritual path.

Exchanging Holiday Bliss for Blues

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Growing up as a Christian, Christmas was always more than gifts and decorations and sugar cookies. There was a deeply spiritual aspect of it as well, one that grew in importance as I matured. The season of Advent led me steadily toward a solemn contemplation of the extraordinariness of God being born as a defenseless infant, in a stinky hay-filled stall no less.

The activities of church competed with the activities of the “season”—the joyous camaraderie of the “greening” of the sanctuary and polishing of the brass; the celebratory hubbub of the packed pews at midnight mass on Christmas Eve; the quiet contemplative air of the sparsely populated pews on Christmas morning. These continued to be cherished memories and colored my experience of the month of December after I stopped attending church a couple of years ago.

It was one year ago that I realized I had become a Buddhist, shortly after Christmas. Perhaps then I was unwittingly feeling what I am quite aware of now, and what is making me wonder what this holiday is all about for someone who is not Christian.

When the Christmas displays began popping up in stores and the carols started playing on the radio, something felt off. It took me a couple of weeks of puzzling over why I wasn’t being caught up in the Christmas spirit before I realized that the something missing was that deep spiritual aspect of Christmas. Feelings related to beliefs and a faith no longer central to my spiritual life were gone, and I keenly felt the loss. And the feeling was heightened by a greater awareness of what was left—the singularly spirit-devoid secular aspects of the holiday season.

Don’t get me wrong: the holidays are certainly spirited. But the mass consumerism of the season seems soulless to me and leaves me sad at feeling divided from the majority of those around me who are bright and bubbly and full of Christmas cheer. I’m not being judgmental. This is not about the behavior of other persons, it’s about feeling unanchored in a maelstrom of materialism.

What is left for me in the December holidays? Putting up a tree and decorations feels…weird, for lack of a more precise word. Why are we exchanging gifts? Why are schools and businesses closing? What’s the point? It all seems empty and meaningless to me now. I am going through the motions without independent thought as to why.

I haven’t yet resolved this quandary to any great extent, and welcome anyone’s thoughts. In the meantime, I am focusing on making this an occasion to act on compassion, to seek out opportunities to support causes and activities devoted to helping the needy and disadvantaged. It seems like a good time to invigorate what should be a daily practice as a new year fast approaches. Hit the compassion ground running (giving?), so to speak.