Wednesday, March 5, 2014


After Easter and Christmas, Ash Wednesday is my favorite religious holiday.  There is just something so beautiful about all the people who come and allow themselves to be publicly signed as sinners in need of God's abundant grace.  The solemn procession of quiet souls proclaims their need for God's healing; together they are embarking on journey of grace.  I watch the faces, the downcast eyes, the clasped hands, and I wonder what they are seeking.  I wonder why they bother to come at all, because aren't we told repeatedly that there are no real sins -- just 'misunderstandings' and 'not living up to our potential' and 'unrealistic expectations'.  

Today, I had a great opportunity to observe the flow of penitents as I was seated behind the altar rail after having proclaimed the second reading at mass.  It's from St. Paul's second letter to the Corinthians.  It says, in part, that now is a very acceptable time [to turn to the Lord].  Now is the day of salvation.  Fr. Michael's sermon really touched me.  He was teaching about the meaning of Lent as a time of preparation, a time to turn to the Lord and give him your burdens, especially your burdens of grudges and anger and sinfulness.  He said we should think of Lent as spring training for the soul, but the habits we practice should be carried forth throughout the year  -- we need to persevere in holiness, not just try it on for six weeks or so.

That really hit home for me -- both my reading and Fr. Michael's sermon.  Not an hour earlier, I'd sent this slightly duplicitous email to my nutritionist's office: 

I need to cancel this appointment for now.  Something has come up for work.  I will call to reschedule.

Followed by the second slightly duplicitous email:

Thank you so much!  Sorry about that -- just need to take care of something sooner rather than later.  :-)

It's slightly duplicitous in that, yes, I do have tasks I need to take care of for work, but this is not the overwhelming reason I cancelled.

I cancelled because I wanted to give up.  I cancelled because I'm frustrated.  I cancelled because I'm ashamed.  I'm treading water.  I'm not losing weight.  I don't feel well.  And in this great ball of goo and angry feelings, I just couldn't face my lovely nutritionist, whose good opinion I want and who is so SURE that, if I do all the things I'm supposed to do, I'll get healthy, lose weight, be happier with myself.  

My experience over the past several years with this weight loss thing is not one of success, it's one of failure.  It's one of sadness, frustration, and excuses.  It's one of half-hearted mad schemes and the decision to not decide.  It's one of hopes dashed and self-hatred. It's one of joining the gym and feeling really good, and then just stopping because life is just too complicated for one reason or another.  It's one of following Weight Watchers, Made to Crave, Curves Complete, Medifast, but always with the underlying, a priori belief that this is not going to 'work', that I can't 'do it right'.  It's one of fear and a semi-acknowledged dread that, no matter what, this is the body I'm burdened with, this is what it's going to be like forever.  And, given my natural proclivities, I then seem to "check out" of my body altogether.   I stop paying attention to basic things like hydration, like exercise, like sleep, like diet, and I live in my head, where it's much more pleasant and where I actually like what I experience.  I'm happy with the thoughts I think; I'm happy with the feelings I have for other people; I'm happy with my imagination.  And then I get resentful when reality crashes in and I start the cycle again.

And into all this bad feeling, comes the Lord, telling me that NOW is an acceptable time.  NOW is the day of salvation.  In other words, get off your ass.  What the hell are you waiting for?  Are you like the Pharisees who won't believe in what I'm saying until they see me coming on a cloud?  Are you waiting for the Second Coming to perfect you?  Remember, God helps those who help themselves.

And into all this bad feeling, comes Fr. Michael, telling me to persevere.  I'm a great attempter.  I try hard, but I don't have staying power.  Fr. Michael is telling me that this is not good enough.  Bodily discipline is like spiritual discipline.  No amount of imagination is going to remove the necessity of actually DOING the right things and making the right choices.  

Recently, on another matter entirely, I had a breakthrough realization.  For years, I'd been trying to fit my behavior in a particular area into the expectations of someone else.  For years, I'd have strong starts, fallings away and half-executed tasks, then fits of guilt, followed by renewed attempts at following the path laid down by someone else. All it left me feeling was inadequate, and angry, and like a failure.  So, I would avoid, avoid, avoid.  Through a lot of work, this other person and I developed a new modus operandi where both of us were able to do what we needed to do and get what we needed out of the situation.  And it's so much better, and it's working for both of us.

I see so clearly that THIS is exactly the issue I'm having with weight loss.  It's the same pattern. The same feelings of inadequacy and anger and the same behaviors of avoidance and resentment.  But I don't know what to do to get in touch with the new modus operandi in this case.  I need something that works FOR ME, not for anyone else. I need something that honors my ways of doing things, as idiosyncratic as they are.  

I know that, whatever this way of doing things turns into, it will start with love, because that is what motivates me.  

For example, I LOVE going to yoga.  I LOVE feeling strong.  I LOVE the improvement I've seen over the past year in almost every aspect of the pain I feel and the flexibility and strength that I have.  

For example, I LOVE planning meals for my family.  It's an expression of love and creativity.  I love cooking and sitting down to dinner with them.  So I need to make sure that my cooking can be done in an optimal way, not just shoved in between helping with homework and doing the supper dishes.  

So, this is where I am right now.  It's not good, but there is a lot of 'head work' and 'heart work' going on right now.  The forty days of Lent are upon us.  

Please note that I've forsworn Facebook during Lent, which is normally the way I signal that I have a new post up.  Be sure to check back directly here, rather than FB, between now and Easter to see if I've made any progress in figuring this all out :-).  And please do leave me comments.  Many prayers for a spiritually-enriched Lenten practice and a blessed Easter to everyone.  

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