It’s the season of Lent.
According to the Christian liturgical calendar, Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. This year, Ash Wednesday fell on Valentine’s Day, February 14th. This year, February 14th was the date of another mass shooting at a school in America.
A holy day. A day of foreheads crossed with ash. A day of love and candy hearts. A day of unimaginable terror, loss and pain.
At Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, seventeen people were killed at the hands of a young, white man using an AR-15 rifle. Seventeen families’ lives altered forever. A new, awful reality.
Blood red hearts. Silenced. Still.
I bring up Lent and the Christian calendar and yet I cannot tell you what I believe. I am the baptized daughter and granddaughter of Lutheran ministers and I’d love to confidently say I believe in a loving and benevolent God. But the truth is, the older I get, the less faith I have. While my grandfather fulfilled the more conservative, traditional picture of a pastor, my father did not. He was a man of quiet faith and liberal leanings and didn’t talk to us much about God and even less about Jesus. By the time I was born–the youngest of seven children–my family’s church going had dwindled to an occasional drop in the bucket. Following a series of unfortunate events, my father ultimately left the ministry, became a college professor and spent most of his Sundays as the choir director, pounding out “A Mighty Fortress” on the church organ, rather than preaching from the pulpit.
As a child, I never even learned the simple words to “Jesus Loves Me.”
What I did learn from my father is that having faith sometimes means that we fall out of step with popular culture. The season of Lent is a time to consider letting go, doing without, fasting, abstaining. To be honest, I rarely took Lent seriously and almost never participated. But this year is different. I may not have a lot of faith these days, but I do believe in the power of stepping back and stepping off the mindless hamster wheel of life. I believe in the value of paying attention and doing without that which we have grown to depend on–a dependency that may have crept up on us unnoticed.
This season of Lent, I’ve chosen to step back from my dependency on social media.
A dear friend of mine described her renegotiated relationship with Facebook as a “snack”, rather than a full meal. An amuse bouche, an aperitif, a simple taste of what’s going on in our friends’ lives, rather than a five-course feast on what may or may not be reality. I set out on this journey away from social media a few weeks ago and was immediately struck by how many more hours in the day it felt like I had. It was a substantial difference–considerable enough to motivate me to continue. This week, I’m sharing with you three things I have been doing more of since stepping back from Facebook.
THING ONE: SWEATING
With raggedy-jaggedy torn meniscus ligaments in both knees, rest is not my friend. As my physical therapist often reminds me, our joints like to move. They need to move in order to stay functional. Since I no longer begin every morning with a cuppa joe and an endless scroll of my newsfeed, I now arrive at the gym early before teaching my classes and get busy getting my sweat on. The elliptical trainer is my new best friend and my knees seem to approve. Even though I had stayed active with hikes in the woods and a passel of yoga classes, I’d missed the serious sweat a good cardio lashing gave me.
Heart-pounding, blood-pulsing, muscle-reviving.
I don’t sparkle. I sweat. I sweat buckets and bushels from my pores. Full-body baptism. Born again.
The elliptical is just the beginning. I move on and lift and pull heavy things. Grip and grunt, powerful might. Strong as dirt.
Muscle swell. Bicep bulge. Call and response.
Alive and kicking.
THING TWO: READING AND WRITING
Reading and writing go hand-in-hand. You can’t write well unless you’re a reader. Every writer needs to read more.
Reading my Facebook feed throughout the day deadened my writing. It killed my creativity and massacred my motivation. There was never an instance where I spent time on social media, pushed away from the computer and felt inspired to do anything, let alone be more creative.
Ennui. Languid. Apathy for as far as eyes could see. Like a virtual virus.
So, I begin my day reading poetry or an essay or a chapter from a book. My notebook sits at my elbow, ready for a few scratches of ideas, a theme to flesh out, a doodle or two snaking down the margins. The critical voice of my inner editor is hushed. Shhhhhh–not now. Words, ideas, shapes and scenes tumble forth without second-guessing.
For my eyes only. Spiritual, creative push-ups.
I wrote and sent Valentines to a few friends. Sentiments of love, trails of thoughts, prayers of appreciation. Gratitude and grace. I wrote a letter, a real letter, on paper, stamped and addressed and delivered. When was the last time you found a letter in your mailbox?
Would you like to? Would it make you happy? Or do you not have time?
THING THREE: COOKING
It was a rare Friday night that we were all together for dinner. The Mister, myself, my son and daughter. Dinner together, the first since Christmas.
Too many years were wasted believing I didn’t deserve to eat. When I did eat, I was careful to not enjoy it too much. For me to fully relish food and its preparation equated to gluttony. Gross. Fat. Unloved. Unloveable. Those messages are still rampant out there–on social media, television, magazine covers, sometimes even from friends and family. It’s insidious and weakens the potential power of every woman on earth.
Sustenance. Hearty, heartfelt. Imagined, prepped and simmered, served with love. Breaking bread. Connection and conversation.
That’s what food and cooking equate to me today. My weekends are for cooking and preparing meals to last me into the busy week ahead, so that I’m not tempted to resort to food devoid of soul. You know that stuff–food that’s over processed, prepackaged, quick to heat and eat but leaves you hollow and empty. Less time on Facebook gives me more time to plan, shop for and create meaningful meals to feed myself and my loved ones.
Nourish. Manna from heaven.
A sacred Friday night shared with my family. Spinach and chickpeas, caesar salad and crusty bread. Bellies full, we draped ourselves across our new sofa and watched Jeopardy and then Olympic ice skating, collectively gasping at every bobble and spill, triple and quad axle and lutz. The quad of us. Divine fellowship.
Here’s the recipe I cooked that Friday night, the Spinach and Chickpeas. Born of Spanish origin, the smoked paprika is where it’s at. I use at least twice as much paprika as the original recipe called for. You be the judge. Make it for someone you love, or for yourself on that night when Facebook simply won’t fill you up.
It’s the season of Lent. Letting go, doing without. Stepping out of our habitual rhythms, dwelling in the possibility of connecting with something greater.
I hope someday I can tell you what I believe. I wish had the answer to the crisis our nation is currently in.
I know for sure the answer is not on Facebook.