Monday, February 13, 2012

Ready for Lent - simplifying THE SOUL

Paula Huston’s book, simplifying THE SOUL Lenten Practices to Renew your Spirit is an excellent resource for developing a deeper appreciation of Lenten practice and offers practical suggestions for every day of the season. I will comment on some of these over the next few weeks.

To be honest, three paragraphs in, I was expecting to dislike the book. Learning that this advice was going to come from a monastic based in Big Sur, I was concerned that the tone of the book would be too precious and the spiritual exercises too lofty for someone as crusty as myself. My fears were unfounded. Her book is down to earth, practical and entertaining. If you are someone who, like me, spent most of your life looking at Lent as a time to “give something up”, the book will challenge you to expand your notion of Lenten observance.
She starts by urging us to doing some physical and mental housecleaning prior to Lent, then divides the weeks of Lent into themes that focus on money, body, mind, schedule, relationships and prayer.
Some daily exercises are easy. Give to a charity, walking  instead of driving to the store, going for a walk while saying the Rosary. Others are challenging. Apologize to someone who is angry with you, turn off your cell phone for a day, pray the Divine Office (easy for some perhaps, but not for me!). 
The book’s humble approach challenges us to give many of her suggestions a try. As she provides a meditation on each practice, examples from her own life are not stories of mastery, but stories of failure, frustration and eventual growth.  
 One of her recommendations is  going to morning Mass on a week day.  I started attending morning Mass daily as part of my Lenten observance three years ago. It is a practice that stuck. I still go to 6:45 Mass most mornings and it has had an impact on my life. My work life was not overly pleasant at that time, so the immediate benefit was that I was no longer getting up to go to work in the morning, I was getting up to go to Mass. My frustration level decreased dramatically.
Her final pre-Lenten suggestion is to set up a quiet place for prayer and meditation. We took this one to heart long before I finished the book. 
The house we thought would be our empty nest is often teeming with grandchildren and dogs. Finding a quiet place to read or pray can be a challenge. This weekend, we screened off the disused, decidedly un-private deck outside our bedroom to serve as this space.

The quiet place

              ( Yes, that is an ashtray on the table. I do some of my best meditation with a cigar in hand) 

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