Dear Friends of Second Church,
My friend M. grew up, not just Roman Catholic, but to hear her tell it, “supercatholic.”
“I was the only girl in my third grade class who wasn’t named Mary or Mary-Something,” she says by way of proving it.
“How did that make you feel?” I asked.
“Guilty,” she said. “Really, really guilty.”
M. has been in the UCC for over twenty years now–head of Religious Education (twice), head of the Strawberry Festival planning committee, Senior Deacon.
But old habits die hard.
She still keeps the sculpture of the Virgin’s praying hands on the mantle–her grandmother gave it to her as a wedding present (“with a speech about obeying my husband,” she adds). She still says the occasional novena for someone in dire straits.
And every year, when Lent comes, she gives something up.
The hardest was the year she gave up Mountain Dew, which turned out to be a real marathon, complete with being trapped at one point in rush hour traffic, creeping along with nowhere else to go…behind a Mountain Dew truck.
She is convinced that the discipline is still good for her, even if she still doesn’t see exactly how to “offer up” her discomfort, which is what she was told early on to do with suffering.
And she finds solidarity among others who are giving up things of their own–in the vulnerability and challenge of it, in the camaraderie of staying strong in the face of temptation.
Listening to her has taught me that she has a different relationship to temptation than other people I know.
For starters, I’ve noticed that many of us still tend too quickly to see temptation as weakness–with that underlying weakness being the “real issue.” Some seem to think that they should be above all that, no matter what, that the self is something we can control in all ways at all times.
M. is more forgiving. She sees temptation in its own terms, as a fact of life, as something that comes but also goes, that can never really be banished, but can be managed.
For M., it’s not the temptation, but the giving in that is the issue. And there is the family of the other faithful giver-uppers to help make sure that she doesn’t give in. The waves that come and go are a very public thing for her, not something to hide or cause for shame.
Amid the challenge of deprivation and discipline, she finds strength in the grace of community.
It makes me wonder what it could be like if, instead of giving up Mountain Dew or chocolate or caffeine for Lent, we gave up perfectionism, or finger-pointing, or our nervous tendency to orchestrate everything for everyone.
What if we found community in struggling with our imperfections, our deepest and most reactive instincts, our most abiding shortcomings?
What if we learned to manage these temptations together?
To me, that wouldn’t be Lent. It would be nothing short of the kingdom.
All the more reason to practice now.
See you in church,