"Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself."
~ Leo Tolstoy
~ Leo Tolstoy
I am Catholic and today is Ash Wednesday, the start of the 40 days of Lent.
|Photo by On the White Line, used with Creative Commons|
This holy day of obligation is a day with familiar traditions (liturgy and Eucharist) but also filled with unfamiliar, or uncommon rituals (mass on a Wednesday, ashes imprinted on my forehead, fasting). We are reminded on this day to turn away from sin and return to the Gospel. And on this day we are reminded of the three pillars of Lent: prayer, almsgiving and fasting. No matter your faith or beliefs, these three things don't have to be mutually exclusive to Catholics or Christians, and I have come up with a challenge for myself as I journey through these 40 days. And I invite you to join me.
Prayer - When it comes to prayer, I believe there are as many ways to pray as there are people in this world. There is no one right way to do it. I used to teach 7th grade religion and one of the best units I did with the kids was on prayer. I taught them how to lead a prayer service and how to find deeper faith through service. Perhaps it would be nice to fall back on tried and true prayers learned in my youth, and while that is what most people would think of as prayer, but I think that there is more to it than that. I try to live my life as a prayer, with thanksgiving and praise, but also with reconciling and acknowledging my weaknesses. It can be as simple as gazing in astonishment at the formation of the clouds in the sky or admitting when I have done wrong and attempting to make it right. To me, prayer doesn't have to mean just following a sacred text, or reciting stale lines from a prayer book. To me, prayer is about living in such a way that my every action is a reflection of my beliefs. To live faith-filled and other focused is my prayer for the world.
Almsgiving - In 2009 and again in 2010 I started a little project I called "Blessed Bucks." You can read about it here and here. Giving part of what you earn to those who need it more is a long tradition in many faiths and cultures. This year, as in the past, I am working on a fundraising project for my daughter's dance school. This will coincide with Lent. I also work throughout the year to donate jewelry that I have made to causes that are dear to my heart. I will be supporting the Boys & Girls club this Lent and I am sure that there will be others that will come up. But I don't stop there. I try to donate every month. And I am working on an idea of having a 'simple truth' that would be sold in my Etsy store with proceeds to go to a charity. That idea is still being worked on. I will let you know more when I have a direction for that.
Fasting - There are a lot of people I know for whom this 40 days of fasting is treated more like a punishment. To give up chocolate or coffee. To quit eating snacks or drinking soda. That is really more of abstaining, like the way Catholics abstain from meat on Fridays (which helped to give rise to Friday night fish fries, and while delicious, does little to further faith ;-). Typically, fasting is refraining from food or drink. In reality, it is just another way to set apart the day as different. When you fast from food and drink, you will feel hungry and maybe even a bit deprived. But knowing that you can easily open the refrigerator and satisfy that hunger or thirst calls to mind that there are others in the world who will go to bed without food, who lack clean water. These are things we take for granted in our world of drive-thrus and 24-hour grocery stores.
But what about fasting from other things? Turning off the T.V. Shutting down the computer. Reading a book instead of floating around on the internet hopping from one mindless site to the next. Talking as little as possible. Putting the phone to rest. For me, to truly fast is to slow your pace and set something aside, but it doesn't have to be something physically nourishing. It can also be soul-nourishing.
Today I went to church and prayed. I got the smudge of ash on my forehead and tried to imagine what a conversion of myself would be like. And I think I came up with a plan.
When I got home from work, I went for a walk.
You might think that is not a big deal. But it is to me. You see, I can't remember the last time that I actually went for a walk that wasn't accompanied by pushing a cart up and down an aisle, or on my way from the parking lot to the front door. Isn't that sad?
I saw a picture of myself with my mother from when I was in college. I had a hard time seeing myself in that girl and it has nothing to do with the style of my hair or the clothes I was wearing. I look like I may have eaten that girl, swallowed her whole. I wonder if she is still in there somewhere. I decided that I had to find out.
So I went for a walk.
As I walked, I looked at the reflection of the blue sky rippling in the long stretch of puddles by the side of the road. I saw the tufts of white clouds and the black stains of the tree trunks reflected in the rippling surface. I saw my own reflection, and I admit that I didn't like what I saw. I simply don't recognize myself anymore. I know that I need a conversion, have known for a long time, but didn't know where to start. And as my legs were stretched and my arms were pumping and I felt the cold sting of the wind on my face, a plan emerged.
The 40 Day F.A.S.T.
They say it takes 21 days to break a habit... or to build one.
What would happen if you had 40 days?
I have alternately given up things like chocolate or coffee in past Lents. But that only served to make me resent my decision every time I saw one of those really crappy-assed chocolate bunnies that look so damned tempting or I developed a lingering headache cloud that followed me around for 40 days. Neither one helped me get in touch with my faith, nor made me a better person. So today I decided that I would go for a walk. Not a big one. Just over to my parents house a few blocks away to water the plant that I have neglected since they became snowbirds and back around the long way home. Just 30 minutes or so. And while walking, and looking deep into puddles, I decided that I would walk every day, for at least 30 minutes. I would walk to get moving, to get healthier, but also to find myself. If I couldn't walk outside, I would have to fire up that ancient walking contraption in the basement that has sat idle for too long. But walk I must.
If you take something and do it - or not do it - for 40 days, what would happen? When you hit that 21 day mark will it become a habit (or break one)? Will it become second nature if you add 19 more days?
I sure hope so. I am not sure what outcome I will see in 40 days. I don't expect to fit into some different sized jeans at the end, but wouldn't that be a nice outcome? But maybe, just maybe I might start to feel better about myself, have a little time alone with myself, get to know myself better, feel a little lighter in my jeans and in my soul. For isn't that what a conversion is all about?
I am calling this my 40 Day F.A.S.T. And I am inviting you to journey along with me.
Now you might have a different goal in mind, an alternate tomorrow that you are striving to reach. I am not expecting that everyone will choose to journey with me, or that they will have the same plan. In fact, I expect that your 40 Day F.A.S.T. will be as unique as you are.
What about learning a new vocabulary word each day? For A Smarter Tomorrow
How about abstaining from negative thoughts? For A Sweeter Tomorrow
Why not stop being so hard on yourself, practice gentleness? For A Softer Tomorrow
Or maybe you will abstain from truly bad habits (texting while driving, giving up smoking, fill-in-the-blank)? For A Safer Tomorrow
For me, F.A.S.T. simply means For A Super Tomorrow... I want to be better in some way at the end of these 40 days than I am right now. Better in mind, body, spirit. And in order to have a Super Tomorrow, I know I need to start today.
Who's with me? Grab the button if you like and join my on your own unique journey for the 40 Day F.A.S.T.
<div align="center"><a href="http://treasures-found.blogspot.com/2012/02/40-day-fast.html" title="The 40 Day F.A.S.T."><img src="http://i1241.photobucket.com/albums/gg508/tesoritrovati/40DayFASTcopy-1.jpg" alt="The 40 Day F.A.S.T." style="border:none;" /></a></div>
What would you be willing to do - or not to do - for 40 days?
How do you think that would change you?
If you are willing to join me in your own 40 Day F.A.S.T., please let me know in the comments and feel free to grab my button. We can check in with one another and encourage us on our way to a super tomorrow!