Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Practicing Lent

For the past few years, one of my spiritual practices has been to spend time in the morning in prayer before work.  Other practices come and go, but this has been a consistently good one for me.  I set an alarm on my cell phone and pray for about 15 to 20 minutes (sometimes more, sometimes less).  I pray at other times as well―really, I believe that breathing is prayer―but having a quiet centering time in the morning is good for my spiritual health, and if I miss more than a day or two, I can tell.

Prayer time is my cat Bella's favorite time of the day.  Most days, as soon as I sit down, she curls up in my lap and starts purring.  I often begin my prayers by listing things that I am grateful for, and having a purring cat on my lap is at the top of the list!  Bella also helps keep me faithful―if it looks like I am not going to pray, she gets quite upset.

When I applied for the School of the Spirit, I saw that there was time for individual spiritual practices in the morning.  That seemed like a good fit, and I thought I would just continue my practice of sitting in prayer in the mornings at the residencies.  Our typical schedule for a day at a residency was:
7:30  Spiritual practice
8:00  Breakfast
8:45  Worship
10:00 Class
12:00  Lunch, followed by free time
2:30  Koinonia groups
5:00  Dinner
6:30  Class
8:45  Collection
In some ways, the rhythm to the days was lovely, but there was a lot of sitting.  By the second or third day of the first residency, I was pretty antsy and irritable.  The only real block of free time was right after lunch, which is a great time for a nap, but less good for a run.  Everyone around me seemed serene; I felt like I was about to start climbing up the walls.

When I complained about my need for exercise, someone suggested that I go running before breakfast.  But that was my time for spiritual practice, I responded.  Yes, and running could be a spiritual practice.  Oh.

And so it was.  Instead of sitting and praying before a day of sitting, I would run and pray, or do yoga and pray, or go for a walk and pray.  I checked in with one of the teachers about my new practice and she reassured me that it was my intention that was the important thing, not what I was actually doing.  I am sure my more energetic spiritual practices made me a much more pleasant person to be around during the residencies!

When I was home from the residencies, I had other times to exercise, so I went back to my spiritual practice of sitting in prayer in the mornings.  I did find myself consciously praying more often while running, walking, or doing yoga, though.

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent.  When I was a kid, I used to give something up for Lent each year.  One year it was chocolate, one year it was soda, and once nearly my entire family gave up meat for the time between Ash Wednesday and Easter.  Then I gave up Lent.

At one of the School of the Spirit residencies, we talked a lot about power.  One of the teachers said that, especially for young women, it is important for us to not give away our power before we know who we are.

I have been thinking about that in relation to the idea of giving something up for Lent.  I don't think it is valuable to give something up just for the sake of giving something up, but I do think there is value in giving something up to make space for something else.

When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I do after feeding the cats usually is to open up my laptop.  I will check my email and open facebook and twitter to see what is going on in the world.  I never mean to spend a lot of time online, but I often will end up sitting there for 20 or 30 minutes, until I need to shower, have breakfast, and pray.

I don't think the internet is a bad thing.  I am glad that it allows me to connect with friends and family who do not live nearby, and email often is the best way to communicate with me.  But I don't like that it is the first thing I do in the morning.

So for Lent this year, I have decided to give up the time I spend on the computer in the morning before work.  I feel the same way about this as I did as a kid giving up chocolate―will I be able to do it?  Will it be hard?  How will I feel by the end?  It may seem like a small thing, but I am hopeful that it will help me change a habit that I don't like. 

I am interested to see what my mornings will look like without time on the computer.  I hope to spend more time in prayer in the morning, and I know that some of it will be while I am running or doing yoga.  If I feel led to write, I will write in my journal instead of opening my laptop.  Some mornings, I may just take the time to make myself a nicer breakfast than usual.  And I expect that most days will include at least 10 or 15 minutes of sitting on my couch with a purring cat on my lap.

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