Ash Wednesday has arrived with its usual harbingers at our house: the Girl Scout cookies are in a filling our freezer (it's a bad week to give up chocolate), and last year's Visa summary statement has arrived. Who is this person who ordered all these cookies and spent so much money last year? Yikes!
I ran the "collar for Lent" experiment idea past some of our staff yesterday, and they rightly pointed out that such an experiment might prevent as much conversation as it invites. . . hard to say. I usually wear my collar on Ash Wednesday anyway, so tomorrow will be the real decision day. Our office manager said, "it would be like wearing ashes all through lent. . ." Maybe.
I'd also like to ride the bus more this season. My commute is short enough that it doesn't save me any money to do this, but it does give me a window on France Avenue that I don't normally otherwise encounter.
If you're not sufficiently aware of mortality this season, check out Bill McKibben's latest piece on global warming in the Christian Century. It's not online yet, but I assume it will be up soon.
Lent is nearly over and it’s time to come clean. I failed pretty miserably at my annual attempt at reducing consumerism during Lent. This practice started a few years ago when I realized that food restrictions did nothing for me spiritually – as a type A introvert I didn’t find that this kind of practice got me out of myself very much at all. So I decided to do something entirely different – I stopped buying books for Lent. If you have ever seen my house you know that this is no small thing. It was a helpful reminder to focus on what I already had, to stop looking over the horizon for the next idea, and it really saved me time browsing in bookstores and on line. (And no, it didn’t result in a book binge on Easter Monday – though going to the Calvin Festival of Faith & Writing every other year does seem to have that effect)
I liked the result so much that I expanded it the last few years to include other kinds of unnecessary spending – music, clothes, etc. Last year I threw away catalogs as soon as they arrived in the mail. This year, I imagined, I might actually call the companies and get off the lists permanently.
Well, that didn’t happen. And what I learned is that I’m very, very good at rationalizing behavior, and that I’m very very bad at getting “back on the wagon” once I’m off.
It was clothes that was the problem this year. And here’s my excuse: I’ve been either nursing or pregnant for the last 5 years, and I was finding that lots of my clothes don’t fit, or were hopelessly out of style. I honestly think I only had one pair of pants whose waistline didn’t go all the way up to my navel.
I started out thinking I would just clear out the old stuff – no need to buy new stuff right away. But the rush of clearing out the old got me so excited to fill the gaps that I went shopping one day – and then another day, and then another.
Now with 2 small children I can’t be in the mall very much. In fact, I hate malls so I only went there once. But a little bit of consumerism led to more. And then I was reading the catalogs again, and then I was actually paying attention to the fashion pages in the Star Tribune (why does a newspaper even need to cover fashion?). The low point came when I found myself not only perusing, but actually buying Lucky magazine at Walgreen’s. Why does a magazine entirely about shopping qualify as a magazine anyway? You’d think it would just be a big free ad circular. AND I PAID MONEY FOR IT!
So there you have it. I failed.
The point of Lenten disciplines is not to deprive oneself simply to remember Jesus’ misery and to feel bad. Nor is it to improve oneself in the classic American fashion. I think ideally Lent teaches us something about the state of our souls. By paying attention for a defined period of time we learn something that will hopefully carry over into the next season even when we’re not paying as much attention. Kind of like scales for a musician – you’d die of boredom if that’s all you ever played, or if you played them for hours a day. But by focusing for a period of time on the basic practice, you’re freed up to concentrate on the music when those same patterns appear in sonatas or nocturnes.
I haven’t done so well on the scales this year. But maybe I’ll be a little less dismissive of my fellow musicians when they are distracted by the latest shoe sale as well.