How deeply we are all in need of a softer world and a gentler way of being.
It is easy to see the rough edges and sharpness in the constant bombardment of noise laced with insults and toxic shards of our culture of discourtesy. Less obvious but as deeply insidious are the ways we mercilessly persecute ourselves. Both the outer crudeness of our increasingly hostile society and the relentless barrage of inner criticism that many of us endure are largely to blame for the rising tides of despair and depression in the world. Caught between these two forces, it is a wonder that there is any joy or hope to be found! And yet there is- nestled in the still point between the voices that shout "too much" and "not enough", there is a quiet place inside the heart where despite the outer turbulence of the world, we can sink in and find the still small voice that whispers "enough" and "just right".
We are in the first few days of Lent- a forty day period that has a really bad rap in our modern world as signifying pious and dour deprivation. But actually, I have come to embrace the Valentinian spirit of this tradition. The Valentinians believed that the deepest truth of the human being is that it holds the promise of goodness and beauty. We are "good seeds" that have yet to reach our fullest potential because we have fallen on rocky ground, or been choked by cares and concerns, or are overshadowed by fear and anxiety.
Lent is an invitation to ask ourselves the truly important questions: what stands in the way of me becoming the best version of myself I can possibly be? How might I clear away the weeds so that I can thrive and unfold in my fullness? What are the patterns that get in the way of peace and joy? What are new habits of heart I can cultivate to lead me to tranquility?
For myself, I have come to the realization that I suffer from a subtle form of gluttony. That's right: gluttony. I pile so many activities (mostly work) on my plate that I am often in danger of total collapse. This triggers a terrible cycle where there is simply not enough time to do everything (from spellcheck to laundry to practicing piano) which leads to my doing less than my best which triggers huge feelings of failure and shame and then creates more anxiety, and before you know it, I can't sleep through the night for fear that everything in my whole life will fall apart and everyone will be mad and disappointed in me and I WILL HAVE RUINED MY WHOLE LIFE AND BE A TOTAL FAILURE.
Have you ever gotten on the downward spiral of the Escalator of Vicious Thoughts? Have you also been assailed by the critical voice that is the Prophetess of Total Catastrophe? So often, she is often accompanied by the Grand Inquisitor of Regret, who comes armed with a complete assortment of whips, chains and torture racks. Before you know it, they have me locked inside the cell of What Should Have Been or If Only I Hadn't and then I find myself in an inner form of hell. I am so busy tied up in the Persecution Chamber that I miss the gorgeous sunrise or the smiles of the children who are trying to flirt with me at the market, and I don't even see the rainbow or hear the song of the lark. I think that process is what the early Christians meant when they talked about "sin" and "evil", two words that underwent woeful mistranslations in the centuries since they were first uttered in Aramaic. In the ancient days, "sin" was an archery term that meant "to miss the mark". Evil was a word that meant "bitter, hard or unripe". I can tell you when I pass the tipping point of gluttony, I miss the mark in a big way by losing the ability to see the beauty and love that is right in front of me. It's a short step from this blindness to to a state of bitterness and self hatred.
I am going to be spending Lent moving towards breaking this awful habits of self-flagellation and gluttony It won't happen all at once. In the meantime, I pledge myself to a little more softness, a little more mercy and to gently move to a more sustainable way of being.
The Valentinians, Pythagoreans and the Celts all believed that there were certain practices or "habits of heart" that helped us tune in to the beauty and goodness that is our deepest essence and find balance. Music, nature, poetry, silence and sacred conversation were considered the royal quartet that could guide you to finding harmony within an often turbulent world.
During this season of Lent, may you remember the messy beauty that lives inside your own perfectly imperfect human heart. May you find ways to nourish and nurture this essential goodness in the days to come and find yourself opening to live days of ever sweeter and more joyful juiciness.