Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

February 21, 2014

A marathon of spiritual discipline

— — Last year my body and soul realized it was the beginning of Lent before my mind did.

I was out for lunch one day in February 2013 when I noticed a man with a smudge on his forehead. I’m one of those people who will tell you when you have lipstick on your teeth or something dangling from your nose. I almost said something to the stranger and then it dawned on me.

“It’s Ash Wednesday,” I thought. I had no idea. I had lost track of the days, hadn’t checked a calendar, and didn’t see it coming. Lent 2013 had started without me. I was really glad I didn’t say anything to the man with a smudge of ash on his forehead. I had recently returned from a birthday celebration getaway and had, ironically enough, decided it was time to get more sleep and exercise, eat better, drink less wine, and recommit to my usual spiritual disciplines.

So, like I said, my body and soul felt it was time to begin the season of penance and prayer that proceeds Easter even if my mind hadn’t checked the calendar. We are a self-indulgent society. Self-denial doesn’t come easily to us. We are only barely and vaguely aware of the concept. We binge all the time. Depending on our age or interests, we binge on beer at keg parties, binge on entire seasons of TV series in a weekend, or binge on boxes of cookies or bags of potato chips.

We are no longer restricted or limited by the clock. Any hour of the day we can indulge ourselves — we can shop online, watch the news, stalk our Facebook friends, or join a chat room 24 hours a day. When do we ever purposefully restrict ourselves or show some discipline? When do we make personal sacrifices that aren’t forced on us by our jobs, responsibilities or children? When do we ever deny ourselves of a craving?

That’s one of the things I appreciate about Lent. It forces me to think about what I’m doing with my time, putting in my body, or feeding to my soul. I choose during the 40 days of Lent to restrict myself from something or require myself to do something else or, sometimes, both.

During that month plus, I make a determined effort to exercise discipline. During those 40 days, I make a promise or a commitment that I strive to keep, while in other situations and other times I will make a promise or commitment and then back out. This year, I am anticipating Lent. I checked the calendar and discovered it is unusually late — still a couple of weeks away. I’ve got a few things in mind for the Lenten Season. I don’t intend to wait until Ash Wednesday for some of them. I know, without checking the calendar, that it is time to start a few good habits now — to condition myself, if you will, for the marathon of discipline between Fat Tuesday and Easter morning. It is time to strengthen my spiritual resolve so I can better plan what I’ll actually do — or not do — during Lent.

Some of the promises are specifically designed to draw me closer to God. Some are intended to test my will and willingness. All of them will develop awareness, accountability, and strength. I appreciated that my body and soul were tuned in last year while my mind was calendar-clueless. Sometimes a still small voice inside of us gives us insight or warning. It tells us something our mind hasn’t understood or our brain missed. It pays to listen to that voice, to pay attention to our instinct.

We can get so lost in the business of our day to day lives, lost in the constant noise of social media and virtual connectedness, that we forget to stop and listen to that still small voice. We blast the knob on the TV, laptop, iPhone and iPods.

 You don’t have to be a Christian, religious or even purposefully “seeking” to adopt the practice of Lent. You could choose to give up an indulgence, luxury or habit in an effort to gain more self-awareness or others-awareness. You could do it in order to practice mindfulness about yourself and the world around you.

I’ve read about some folks who are plugged in, living well-Tweeted lives, who decided to give up technology for a week or two at the beginning of the year. I’m not sure anyone could do that for 40 days, but maybe limiting the hours spent with computers, TVs, smart phones, and tablets would be transformational. It is interesting to think about the number of books one might read, letters one could write, relationships that could be nurtured, and the peace and quiet one might experience if less time was spent with the flat, hard screens that have become our substitute door and window to the world.

This year, Lent won’t sneak up on me. I’m anticipating it mind, body and soul. I hope to see differences in all three come Easter morning.

Jaletta Albright Desmond is a columnist who lives in North Carolina with her family. You may contact her at jdesmond@bdtonline.com.

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