February 16th, 2013

A feast and fast.


Near the end of January, I threw my¬†I Ching, something I normally do early in the New Year, to tell which way the wind in my soul is blowing. I learned to read it practically at my mother’s knee, and while I don’t believe there’s any more magic in the practice than any other form of meditation, it can be uncanny at times. I think of it as a viewfinder, a way to frame and focus on what’s really happening, or needs to happen.

The first image that came up with the coin toss was gentle persistence. I really liked that. Gentleness is a quality I have been trying to direct toward myself, and I have a hard time reconciling it with self-discipline. Consequently, my inner dialogue tends to resemble a good cop/bad cop script. Trading discipline for persistence sounds like a much happier partnership.

The second image was retreat. I wasn’t sure what to make of that. Retreat from what? From whom? I wrote the word in my journal, but without any “a-ha!” annotations.

Then I decided I wanted to observe Lent this year. I have an on-again, off-again relationship with the institutional church (Episcopalian), and it’s been several years since I’ve really participated in the liturgical calendar. But lately I’ve been feeling called back to the rhythm. I am answerable to very few timetables–if it weren’t for school, I probably wouldn’t know what day of the week it is. Which suits me, but isn’t always good for me. My sideways brain needs levees of season and routine, or it spreads too wide, shallow and aimless in its meandering.

So I thought about where the fat was in my life that could use some trimming, and came up with two areas of consumption: food and social media. I like both of these things a lot. Neither is a vice in my book, but there is a mindlessness to my consumption of both recently, and it is making my belly and brain flabby. I figured I could stand to cut back for forty days.

But not without a little feasting. In Newfoundland, I grew up with Pancake Day on Shrove Tuesday, but here in Arkansas, we embrace the Mardi Gras tradition of our next door neighbor, Louisiana. There was a gumbo dinner at the church I’m flirting with, but I’m not ready for a dinner date just yet, so we celebrated at home, with Dixieland jazz and zydeco music, masks and beads, a meal of shrimp and grits, and a homemade King Cake.

Mes amis, we rolled in the good times.

In addition to the traditional baby hidden in the King Cake for one lucky reveler to find, I wanted some kind of token for each person at the table, something that they could keep with them through the Lenten season. I found the perfect thing in the beading section of the hobby store: metal charms stamped with various virtues. I tied each with a ribbon, and tucked them into the baked cake. I also bought a length of hemp cording, so we could wear the charms as necklaces or bracelets.

Everyone seemed to draw exactly the right word. Especially me.

In one of the pamphlets I grabbed out of the back of the church on Ash Wednesday, I read that fasting is an occasion to find out what controls us. That resonates with me. It implies that we’re probably going to screw it up; that it’s not meant to be an exercise in perfectionism. Gentle persistence. Retreat.

In considering what to “fast” from, it was tempting to make it goal-directed. Lose 10 pounds. Write five chapters. As much as I would love all those things to happen, those aren’t the point. This isn’t Extreme Makeover, the Lent Episode. It’s about withdrawing from the usual. God doesn’t care if I substitute almond milk for cream in my coffee, but by drinking it black the last few days, I’ve had to consider my relationship to a daily part of my life I never think about. I drink a lot of coffee. Do I even like the taste of coffee? Do I need it? (Early results indicate yes, and yes.)

In the same vein, by retreating from daily Twitter, Instagram, and my personal Facebook account, I wonder what I’ll find out about my relationship to social media. Every time my hand reaches for my iPhone is a mini-revelation. What’s it like to have a funny thought or flash of insight and share it with just one person instead of hundreds? What’s it like to not to have a scanner constantly tuned to the thoughts of my friends? To not know who shares my point of view enough to like my photos? What demons are in this desert? Boredom? Loneliness? Or is it teeming with life I’ve been missing?

I’m curious to find out.

P.S. This blog and my public Facebook page are not part of my social media retreat (technically, neither are Sundays part of Lent, though I’m going to try to abstain continuously). If you are missing me on those other platforms, you can subscribe to blog updates in the sidebar here, or like my author page on Facebook. Otherwise, enjoy the break!

8 Responses to “Retreat”

  1. Bev says:

    “My sideways brain needs levees of season and routine, or it spreads too wide, shallow and aimless in its meandering.” This is true of my life since we retired nearly three years ago, and I actually don’t always know what day it is. This post has given me much food for thought and I will read it again while trying to find ways to incorporate a bit, only a bit, more structure into our lives. btw: I’m happy that you didn’t retreat from your blog!!!

  2. The Mommy says:

    I actually gave up coffee for Lent this year (Roman Catholic). And “yelling” at the kids – “Yelling” is different than “shouting” because around here – with 4 kids – you really do have to shout sometimes just to be heard over the din. But Yelling is unnecessary to make a point, so I’m giving it up. Luckily for me, coffee has been the harder of the two abstentions.

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