Lent started Ash Wendesday, which is the day after Mardi Gras for all you socialites out there. Aside from the no-eating-meat-on-Friday rule one typically chooses a personal sacrifice or two--for example trying extra hard to give up a bad habit (like a New Year's resolution) or giving up something we're attached to (like my giving up Facebook). The latter is kind of nice because getting the good thing back on Easter is a bit of added celebration. Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are two special days of abstinence (no eating meat) and fasting. I slipped up on my very first day of Lent by not eating breakfast when I should have just eaten a smaller lunch and dinner. I ended up lightheaded and sick feeling from what I suspect was low blood sugar. I also accidentally ate meat. Who knew this would be so hard? But in general, the not eating meat has been laughably easy since Carrie has been staying with me and cooking vegetarian dinners for us. I usually go to lunch with work friends on Friday but tuna is an easy substitute for 'real' meat. BUT having to remember the rule serves the purpose of reminding me about why I'm doing it---oh yeah, that Great Jesus thing.
Today I finally went to Stations of the Cross, which consists of communal prayers said at each of 14 pictures stationed around the church. The point is to meditate on 14 aspects of the Passion narrative. I expected people to show up out of feelings of obligation (part of why I went), distractedly read off some prayers, and leave glad to be able to check off one more thing on the Lenten To Do list. I was a little concerned when I walked in and there were no more prayer books available, thinking this might be a disorganized mess. But as I shuffled into the pew I was impressed with the quiet seriousness of the group.
I did not anticipate the emotional experience about to unfold. The theme of this particular version of the stations was the experience through Mary's eyes. She watches her son suffer but knows that it has to be so. She silently cries and silently prays and silently follows. There were a lot of men and a lot of women both young and old in the pews and almost everyone was sniffling or hiding their face or drying their eyes. Whoa. Intense. It reminded me of when I sat trembling with dry sobs as I tried to sing at my boss's funeral with his engineers sniffing back tears on either side of me. The moving thing about Catholic sorrow is that it's sorrow mixed with expectant hope, which is a beautiful kind of sadness.
I never knew that my boss was (is?) Catholic until he died. What a surreal experience to attend a Catholic mass with upwards of 100 scientists and engineers! I was glad I sat next to a certain coworker when he hesitatingly crossed himself at the beginning of the Mass. I'm not sure how I would have overcome my performance anxiety if I were stuck between a bunch of stoic and silent old dudes. It was pretty intense having all of those people together at the same time remembering this man. I was struck with a mix of emotions including most prominently grief and hope. To me it felt like a going away party, with key people giving advice and toasts and the rest of us there for celebration and moral support. A story started to play out in my head of a young European couple marrying and then setting off for America (sort of like Far and Away without the class discrimination), where they may never be heard from again. This is what the Church says happened to my boss, I thought. He was united with his Beloved and he is now somewhere beyond our reach, until we finally join him in that place, or state of being, or whatever it is. What a beautiful way to achieve some sort of closure.
One check box remains on my Lenten To Do list: my pre-confession confession. Multiple people, including Father Bill, have suggested that us catechumens make a sort of practice confession before we get baptized. It's a practice confession because we can't do the real thing until after we're baptized, since through baptism we die to our old life and are born into a new life in Christ with a clean slate. So yeah, basically those of us who haven't been baptized get out of confession on the Constantine technicality (he supposedly waited to be baptized on his death bed). A lot of people I've talked to are terrified about this idea of confession but I see it as something like free therapy. I mean, there is now a person who is literally obligated to listen to me whine and complain and to comfort and encourage me that things will get better--what's not to like about that?
Three more weeks until I die to Old Sarah and become New Sarah! Unless I go all St. Francis of Assisi and rush off naked into a life of absolute poverty there should be another update soon.