Living Lent

The reflection below is written by Barbara Cawthorne Crafton:  

We didn’t even know what moderation was. What it felt like. We didn’t just work: we inhaled our jobs, sucked them in, became them. Stayed late, brought work home – it was never enough, though, no matter how much time we put in.

We didn’t just smoke: we lit up a cigarette, only to realize that we already had one going in the ashtray.

We ordered things we didn’t need from the shiny catalogs that came to our houses: we ordered three times as much as we could use, and then we ordered three times as much as our children could use.

We didn’t just eat: we stuffed ourselves. We had gained only three pounds since the previous year, we told ourselves. Three pounds is not a lot. We had gained about that much in each of the twenty-five years since high school. We did not do the math.

We redid living rooms in which the furniture was not worn out. We threw away clothing that was merely out of style. We drank wine when the label on our prescription said it was dangerous to use alcohol while taking this medication. “They always put that on the label,” we told our children when they asked about this. We saw that they were worried. We knew it was because they loved us and needed us. How innocent they were. We hastened to reassure them: “It doesn’t really hurt if you’re careful.”

We felt that it was important to be good to ourselves, and that this meant that it was dangerous to tell ourselves no. About anything, ever. Repression of one’s desires was an unhealthy thing. I work hard, we told ourselves. I deserve a little treat. We treated ourselves every day.

And if it was dangerous for us to want and not have, it was even more so for our children. They must never know what it is to want something and not have it immediately. It will make them bitter, we told ourselves. So we anticipated their needs and desires. We got them both the doll and the bike. If their grades were good, we got them their own telephones.

There were times, coming into the house from work or waking early when all was quiet, when we felt uneasy about the sense of entitlement that characterized all our days. When we wondered if fevered overwork and excess of appetite were not two sides of the same coin – or rather, two poles between which we madly slalomed. Probably yes, we decided at these times. Suddenly we saw it all clearly: I am driven by my creatures – my schedule, my work, my possessions, my hungers. I do not drive them; they drive me. Probably yes. Certainly yes. This is how it is. We arose and did twenty sit-ups. The next day the moment had passed; we did none.

After moments like that, we were awash in self-contempt. You are weak. Self-indulgent. You are spineless about work and about everything else. You set no limits. You will become ineffective. We bridled at that last bit, drew ourselves up to our full heights, insisted defensively on our competence, on the respect we were due because of all our hard work. We looked for others whose lives were similarly overstuffed; we found them. “This is just the way it is,” we said to one another on the train, in the restaurant. “This is modern life. Maybe some people have time to measure things out by teaspoonfuls.” Our voices dripped contempt for those people who had such time. We felt oddly defensive, though no one had accused us of anything. But not me. Not anyone who has a life. I have a life. I work hard. I play hard.

When did the collision between our appetites and the needs of our souls happen? Was there a heart attack? Did we get laid off from work, one of the thousands certified as extraneous? Did a beloved child become a bored stranger, a marriage fall silent and cold? Or, by some exquisite working of God’s grace, did we just find the courage to look the truth in the eye and, for once, not blink? How did we come to know that we were dying a slow and unacknowledged death? And that the only way back to life was to set all our packages down and begin again, carrying with us only what we really needed?

We travail. We are heavy laden. Refresh us, O homeless, jobless, possession-less Savior. You came naked, and naked you go. And so it is for us. So it is for all of us.

-Barbara Cawthorne Crafton from Living Lent: Meditations for These Forty Days

I just love this passage, she articulates so well the echoes of voices that move through our culture telling us we should want more things, want to keep doing.  But the needs of the soul are far different, we cannot buy something to fulfill our deepest longings.  This Lent for me has been in part about truth-telling, trying to summon up “the courage to look the truth in the eye” as she writes.   I find that this has unsettled me on many levels and I am still sifting through much of it, too busy this week to sit with the truth that is rising up.  The truth, however, will persist as an unsettling or anxiety until I sit down and face it.  Once you dip into the waters of truth and beauty, it is almost impossible to turn your back on them again and return to a life numbed by shopping, busyness, and other compulsive behaviors.  Dive in with me naked into the sea of the soul’s longings.   

-Christine Valters Paintner @ Abbey of the Arts

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10 Responses

  1. Hi Bette, Thanks so much for sharing this, it is inspiring to read and fun to see how you hope to keep yoruself focused. My only suggestion is that in balance with work hard you include something about Sabbath and rest and being gentle with yourself. I love the one about humility, very important!

    Thanks for your comment Jo, yes these words keep ringing inside of me.

    Blessings, Christine

  2. Hi Christine,
    Well, here’s my first draft. I welcome your comments and suggestions :)

    BETTE’S MISSION STATEMENT – (First Draft, March 11, 2007)

    1. RE-FOCUS EVERYDAY – ALL DAY

    2. Seek JOY & Laughter! – (Remember to discipline yourself today. Be in Nature OFTEN, Walk or Exercise, Write Waka, Play Music, Funny Movies, & Read Jokes).

    3. Seek PEACE & LOVE = Meditate/Pray for Guidance & Healing for Others & Self/Ask God’s Forgiveness.

    4. WORK HARD in all ways & Keep a CLEAN, De-Cluttered Home.

    5. REWARD Yourself: CREATE ART – Woodblock.

    6. HUMILITY – Always be a Humble Beginner.

    Remember, Bette…When you’re happy, its easier to be in peace & love.
    When you’re feeling happy and peaceful, its easier for you to clean and create.
    And during all these things – be humble.
    Re-Evaluate your Mission Statement when necessary :)

  3. Thank you so much dear friends, I just got back from leading a workshop to your wonderful comments and I am moved. I re-read the passage and was again stunned by its truth and beauty. That image of nakedness is really stirring in me in connection with a dream I had last week. I hope to articulate some of it tomorrow.

    Bette, I’d love to hear your mission statement if you feel moved to share it once you’ve articulated it. Sounds like a grand idea.

    All the prayers you have each added here have really moved me and I thank you deeply for that.

    Blessings, Christine

  4. Wow, I loved this too. “We wondered if fevered overwork and excess of appetite were not two sides of the same coin…”. Yes a billion times. “…the only way back to life was to set all our packages down and begin again, carrying with us only what we really needed”. Yes a billion more times. Thank you for posting this for us : )

    Blessed Lent

  5. This absolutely stuns me every time I read it…speaking of truth! I usually get Barbara’s daily messages but I figured I must be off the list…so I got back on.

    We have so much…so much more than we need. When we came back from sabbatical, we were so determined to live with less and I am afraid we (I) have slid into the same old rut. We are forever buying and then getting rid of THINGS we don’t need.

    Refresh me, O God!

  6. how true that “once we dip into the waters of truth and beauty, it is almost impossible to turn our back on them again”. may we hold to that truth so it does indeed become impossible! blessings!

  7. A very good passage and message. One to read everyday actually. I find it important for me to take inventory practically daily. Its so easy for me to to lose focus of my own personal convictions when I am constantly and even closely surrounded by materialism and over-abundance.

    While I am following Julia Cameron’s “Finding Water” book, I’m learning that doing the Morning Pages helps keep me focused and when I skip a day or two of them, that’s when I start wandering off-track. I think I might make myself my very own Life Mission Statement and post it around my house, on the lid of my lap top, in my vehicle, etc.

    I join you in diving into the sea of the soul’s longings. Thank you for your ministry, Christine. Hugs :)

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