Blessed is the man whom God corrects;
so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.
For He wounds, but He also binds up;
He injures, but His hands also heal.
From six calamities He will rescue you;
in seven no harm will befall you.
I’m a blessed man.
Oh I moan now and then, but life is like that, filled with discomforts, filled with challenges.
But the rewards are mighty.
Thank you O Lord!
The last few days have been wonderful. Jeremiah is still a little sick (he is recovering from bronchitis, but the bloody noses have nearly ended).
I feel buoyed since my last post. Brenda and I cuddle, and pray, and are kind to each other. Not a cross word, not a moment of irritation. (...He injures, but His hands also heal...)
A perfect start for what comes next. I am so excited.
Tuesday Lent begins.
Lent is supposed to be a time for spiritual reflection, a time for folks to reflect on the life of Jesus and mimic His forty days of reflection. It begins the first instant of Ash Wednesday.
That’s why New Orleans kicks up its collective heels at this time each year. “Carnival” Latin for “farewell to meat,” is a time for feasting because soon they are to fast and consider our Lord’s suffering. Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) is a bacchanalian frenzy which ends with the serious business of Lent. It's like planning on going on a harsh diet and eating a half gallon of ice cream the night before.
I am sure that Mardi Gras is somewhat of an embarrassment for many Catholics, though I think most folks recognize that it has little do with faith anymore. But it has its origins in the idea of the restraint of the coming season. I want to approach this lenten season with a heart closer to the purpose... I want to follow my Lord out into the wilderness... I want to think about what He did for me... I want to draw closer to Him... now.
I start it on Tuesday. I’m not Catholic so I can make up my own rules. Tuesday I set aside to prepare my heart for the season.
I haven’t the history and cultural inertia behind me to push me into this season. But I have passion.
Some folks make New Year’s resolutions. Not me. I don’t make resolutions at all. I make changes. And this is the season I look at my faith and challenge myself.
Serious business. I look inside my heart, I find that spot where my Lord dwells, and I ask Him to tell me what to do.
Two years ago it was cigarettes. Last year it was prayerful artistic expressions.
Last year prayer became something important. What I learned during the last lenten season prepared me for what the year would bring. (...For He wounds, but He also binds up...)
Well, I’ll talk about his year’s changes some other time.
I begin each Lenten season by watching The Passion of the Christ.
Not easy to watch. Frankly, it makes me weep. (And I come from a family where men don’t cry, no matter what...) I don’t like the pain it brings my heart, but I cherish the sacrifice it shows. I feel that if He could do that for me, the least I can do is to peek at what happened.
That is how I start this season. I arrange to let whoever in my church wishes to view it come. There will also be a communion, so we can reflect on the last supper.
I get my heart right. I start Lent.
I teach a Sunday School class, and one of the little old ladies was asking about the purpose of Lent. She couldn’t understand why people give up certain things for this season and then go back to them... like meat, or chocolates.
I told her I believed it was to give their spiritual life focus. That in giving something up the desire becomes a reminder.
I’m giving up something a little odd this year.
I’m giving up my beard.
My beard was thin when I turned 18, the day my dad told me to move out (months before high school ended). Out I went. I moved into the neighbor’s basement, $50 a month.
It was a typical beard for a youth. Thin, sparse. A little pretentious, a tentative claim on manhood, a timid statement of nonconformity, counterpoint to my father’s clean, stern jaw line.
Over the years the beard has thickened. It lengthened and shortened in response to changing lifestyles and jobs. It was long and wooly when I was roamed western highways and mountain trails. Trimmed short as a cook. Bushy in college, short as a graphic artist. Wild when I was living off a garden and animals I raised, and trimmed neatly as a teacher. But for over thirty years it has kept my chin warm.
Now it is full, neatly trimmed, and has quite a bit of grey in it. And for the next month and a half it will be gone. Every morning I will shave, and while doing so, I will pray.
And every time I step outside I will be a little surprised at the sensation of the breeze on my naked chin, and I’ll say a little prayer.
It will be a reminder of the season, help me to focus.
And what is the point? Why struggle with my faith, especially when things are going well (relatively)?
Because that is why I am here. To experience life.
I have lain in the wilderness, waiting for death... I have held my dead child, laid him in a grave, carved his marker... I have seen my children dance for joy, and bathed in the warmth of my wife’s smile (what joy!). I’ve walked the John Muir Trail, and I’ve had a gun pointed in my face. I’ve gone blind, had amnesia, and seen evil spirits dancing in the dark. I've been kidnapped and had a tent shredded around me in a sandstorm.
Experiences. Change. Growth.
But I am still standing. Heck, I’m dancing! And that doesn’t seem rational... for life is hard:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them. To die, to sleep--
No more--and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to. 'Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished...
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
Th' oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely
The pangs of despised love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of th' unworthy takes...
And all of it... all of it is making me into something my Lord can better use, something He is pleased with.
That is enough.
I want to be an example for my children, to show them that a man can be committed to his marriage, to his faith. (My father is getting his fifth divorce.)
I want to help my wife, be a leader of my home. Support her efforts in school, help around the house, take the lead in our spiritual life.
I want the challenges, the growth.
I know there is still a shadow prowling the edges of my life. And I have a righteous anger at him, and I know he isn’t done with trying to hurt us.
But today... Oh today... I am dancing in my heart.
Because the creator of the universe loves me.
That joy I feel when I see Brenda smile is small compared to the joy I feel when I sense Him smile.
I have faltered, I have stumbled, and I have fallen. But a hand has lifted me up every time, and its bleeding wound has been pressed to my skin and I cannot forget that love of His.
So... the beard comes off. I want to feel the wind blow and be attuned to what He would have me feel.