It’s the first day of Lent Proper—Pure Monday as it’s liturgically called—and I’ve had a pretty typical start to the season of repentance.
I lost it with my kids over the most minor of transgressions. Was it necessary to scream at Gabriel for dumping a box of magnetic letters on the floor? He’s three. He dumps. It’s developmental, not to mention genetic.
Because we don’t eat dairy products (as well as all animal products), I ate, let me see, four bowls of yogurt with muesli over the course of the day (yogurt being necessary for personal health reasons). Dark chocolate is “legal,” so while telling myself I’d only eat one square, I ended up eating half the bar. So much for self-control.
I spoke a short prayer Saturday night as I attempted to turn my attention toward the season of Lent. Watch out when you ask God to show you your sin. Thankfully, the Orthodox Church offers numerous opportunities to participate communally in the work of repentance. The Canon of St. Andrew of Crete is a beautiful example. Several phrases stick in my mind from the service last night:
“I have darkened the beauty of my soul with passionate pleasures, and my whole mind I have reduced wholly to mud.”
Mud pretty much sums it up. Mindless internet surfing, addictive “story” watching (Dowton Abbey, Cadfael, Nashville), eating jars of Nutella one spoon at a time—none of these are cardinal sins, mind you, but they are definitely symptoms of a mind concerned more with entertainment and escape than simplicity and humility. If anything, these indulgence express an utter lack of concern for the state of my soul.
“The end is drawing near, my soul, is drawing near! But you neither are nor prepare. The time is growing short. Rise! The Judge is near at the very doors. Like a dream, like a flower, the time of this life passes. Why do we bustle about in vain?”
I’m not going all despondent on you here. Just attempting to take stock. The good thing about the fast and long services of prayer is the stillness that accompanies them. The emptying nature of Lent makes room. It is necessarily an empty room at first. It’s not easy to sit with yourself, to get a good look. But the same prayers that empty also can fill, because that’s what love does. As St. Isaac of Syria puts is:
“The love of God proceeds from our conversing with Him; this conversation of prayer comes about through stillness, and stillness arrives with the stripping away of self.”
from The Syriac Fathers on Prayer and the Spiritual Life
And also this:
“Blessed is the person who knows his own weakness, because awareness of this becomes for him the foundation and the beginning of all that is good and beautiful.” Daily Readings with St. Isaac of Syria
Having written all that, and recognizing the life-giving truth in it, know what I want to do? Turn on some music. Make plans. Get myself busy. Finish the movie John and I started last Friday. In short, I want to Run. Thankfully, G needs me to help him get on the toilet. I need to eat breakfast. Laundry needs folding. That “stripping away of self” doesn’t have to be self-inflicting. The circumstances of my life, engaged with my whole self, are opportunity enough.