Ash Wednesday: “A Good Lenten Start”

Heavenly Father, grant us a fervent spirit of love for your Son Jesus as we begin these days of Lent. Give to our hearts especially a desire for prayer” (The Magnificat Lenten Companion, 2022, p. 12).

As we begin our Lenten journey, so many obligations and concerns come to mind, such as abstinence, fasting, and repentance. All of these are important, but let’s not forget the significance of prayer.

Quite simply, prayer is our opportunity to talk with God. It is a time, hopefully repeated throughout each day, that we focus our attention on Him and share our concerns, joys, and gratitude.

We acknowledge that the heart is the seat of the soul, the center of our being. And so when we ask, “Give to our hearts especially a desire for prayer,” we are affirming that it is the very core of who we are, created by God, known to Him before we were born, that when rightly ordered, yearns to speak to Our Creator, Being itself.

By talking with Him, either out loud or silently, we are affirming that which He has already spoken into being: our relationship with and love for the Lord. The words themselves, expressed from the heart, are inspired and enlivened, reflecting the awesome power of the very Logos with whom we are humbly communicating.

May we take the time, everyday in our Lenten journey, to open our hearts and more profoundly experience the wondrous gift of prayer.

Girls Who Ride Horses

The girls with their horses.

Girls who ride horses

Never complain about rain.

They pay no mind to tangled wet hair

Or muddy boots.

The ring may be spotted with large puddles

But they canter through them

Laughing as the spatter spits at their horses’ legs.

Girls who ride horses

Long to be outdoors

Among the trees

In the fresh air

Perfumed with autumn leaves

Cut grass

And stacked bales of hay.

Girls who ride horses

Know how to communicate without speaking

Set intentions

And realize their visions.

Their rooms are bedecked with show ribbons

And equestrian books.

They leave the barn late

And return early in the morning

Because they must—

Because their love and commitment are true and steadfast.

Girls who ride horses

Are responsible, dedicated, strong, and free.

One day I hope to be like

Girls who ride horses.

Where Are You Aiming?

Sean aiming the telescope into the early evening sky at Pebble Beach.

If we are asked, “What do you see?” We might answer, “Isn’t it obvious? I see what’s in front of me.”

Maybe we see the traffic around us making us late. Perhaps we see the partner who’s again doing that thing that’s always irritating. Maybe we see our child who is once more struggling in school or sad over a difficult friendship.

But of course not everything we see is sad or challenging. We see lots of beauty, friendship, and joy, too.

The thing is, though, most of us depend on what we see to determine how we feel. We are responsive by nature. We inherently know how, and are socialized, to read our environment and react to it. This is primal. Our ability to understand and then interact with what’s going on around us literally keeps us safe and alive.

Many of us, however, come to realize at some point that simply becoming skillful at responding and reacting is insufficient. This insight doesn’t often arise when things are going well. Rather, it’s when what we see disturbs, frustrates, or upsets us enough, and we begin to develop a pattern of suboptimal vision, so to speak, that we begin to take notice and ask new questions.

Ideally, we move from demanding, “What’s wrong with the world?” to “What could I do differently or better?” To live consciously and openly is to cease relying on what’s outside us for our stability or happiness. To live meaningfully and purposefully is to decide for ourselves how and who we want be in the world. Regardless of what happens to us. Regardless of what we see.

“Well, that’s impossible!” you might say. “Have you watched the news in the last 5 minutes? Are you at all familiar with the state of the world? How can anyone find peace, let alone happiness, when confronted with reality?”

Indeed. Understandable. Excellent points. Reality is tough. What we see is often unpleasant at best and catastrophically, emotionally, or mortally wounding at worst.

So we must reconsider. If it is at all possible to move with joy and openness through the world, as millennia of teachers and religious have wrestled with themselves and taught us to do, we must look at this differently. We must learn to see in a new way.

As Jordan Peterson tells us, “What you aim at determines what you see.” In other words, it is insufficient to simply see—to look at the reality in front of us. That will only keep us tethered to the present conditions, which may be less than satisfactory at best.

Instead, we must reach beyond the limiting and constricting boundaries of the present and decide to aim at something greater and above where we are. Something that will serve to call us forward into the future and towards our future selves. Only when we discern and define this aim will we begin to see differently.

If our aim is too low, it hardly qualifies as an aim at all. This asks far too little of us to result in any meaningful movement forward. Of course if we have no aim, if we accept that life is no more than a relentless and losing game of wack-a-mole, then we are doomed to a life of repeated frustration, anxiety, and hopelessness, which usually leads to physical, emotional, and spiritual exhaustion and paralysis. This is stagnation. And stagnation not only results in lack of movement, it also leads to the dissolution of creativity and curiosity and ultimately in an inability to thrive.

But, what if, instead, this aim is elevated and encouraging? What if it gives us meaning and purpose? Then, if it, even in a small way, represents the essence of being itself in its goodness, truth, and beauty, then what we see will not only reflect these transcendentals, but it will also invite us to integrate them into our own being. We will, in fact, begin to “level up”—to move closer to our optimal selves.

So again, if we are asked what we see, are we prepared to look forward and upward to our greater aim first before answering?

When Sean positioned his eyes in the telescope, he tilted it up. He pointed the lens to the sky as dusk was falling to look for the moon and the stars that began to take shape.

What did he see? The glory of the universe laid out before him.

What Are You Practicing?

Without an aim, becoming anything elevated is challenging at best.

How do any of us improve at anything? What are the strategies for reaching our goals? How do we contend with the voices in our heads that bemoan, “I want that, but…?” “I could do that, if only….” “Things will never change for me. I’m not lucky like her.”

What if, instead of flooding our systems with thoughts of resistance and disability, we just decided to aim at something and move toward it? What if we pointed at what we want, or more importantly how we want to feel and who we want to be, and go from there?

Do you want to be more organized? Fold your clothes and put them away. Do you want to be more learned in a subject? Watch an educational video or start a course. Do you want to inhabit a leaner, faster body? Pick one healthy food to incorporate into your menu today and take a short walk or do an exercise—a short one. Whatever it takes. The action doesn’t have to be grand, it just has to be.

The changes we seek will likely require more than one meal or exercise or book for us to actually realize them. But the point is, we just have to point and start and then commit to consistent practice.

It is in the practicing that we both reinforce our aim and desired goal as well as move physically, energetically, and spiritually in the direction of our future selves. With hearts and minds raised to what is to come, we actually experience the future in our present. We are at once living in the isness of the now and witnessing the life spark of pure potential.

Just as the budding flower stretches toward the sun in order to generate the life force and inspire its opening as a full bloom, so do we benefit from such an aspiring posture. For us, our vision, our dream, our goal, our aim, these are our sun, our star.

All wisdom traditions teach us to gaze upward, look ahead, in effect, to aim high and start moving.

Just imagine what we could become, individually and collectively, if more of us decided what elevated versions of ourselves we wanted to become and then practiced them?

Rejecting History is Not Benign

Erasing history, willfully forgetting our past, and denying Truth—these are not benign actions. We cannot, out of self-interest, ego, fear, or even misplaced compassion, destroy and reject what has come before. We are all–individuals, states, and nations–imperfect. None of us ever attains the ideal, because that is not only impossible, but it is also in the very striving towards the highest good and in the failing and trying and failing and trying that we actually come close to it.

But if we think we are growing closer to the ideal by denigrating everything that has come before now and all of our failings, we are not only misguided, but also contributing to the worsening of culture. Curiosity, perspective, and even wisdom can only emerge when we are able to admit our shortcomings, declare that we have fallen short and learned, and then evolve into greater clarity and understanding. Without a sense of history, whether in the form of words, statues, songs, beliefs, laws, etc., we are rendered ignorant. We are destined to walk into the future with a naive view of the world, our place in it, and our responsibility to it.

Shockingly, many would have us deny the very logos that the likes of Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King, Jr. espoused. In a twisted attempt to uphold unity, they are actually advocating a type of neo-segregation–one that demands we judge on color, race, sex, and class before all else. Throw in judgement on the basis of our health status and political views and we have a culture that can only be driven by depression, fear, anger, suspicion, and adherence to group-think. There is no room for the individual in this society. Only the group you represent matters.

Without historical perspective, young people especially have no idea where this leads. But we know. We have seen it before.

What is the answer? We must never lose sight of the profound significance of the individual–her curiosity, desire to thrive, be free, and aspire to the greatest good. We must not allow fear and suspicion to infect our ability to think clearly, act freely, and work for the betterment of all men and women by committing to our own integrity.

The ancients and mystics recognized that Being is defined by these essential qualities: truth, goodness, and beauty. If this is true, then color, race, sex, class, and all such capricious categories are fundamentally toxic and only cause greater separation. As we do in the natural world, we celebrate our uniquenesses and differences. We admire the beauty that variety displays. But we do so while acknowledging and being grateful for the belonging and connection that come not from our differences, but rather from the unity that comes from something far greater. While shapes, colors, behavior, and habitats differ, it is the spirit, the Divine essence in every living thing that joins us. And it is this spirit that gives rise to character and the fundamental nature of who we are.

Those wise men and women who have come before us have affirmed it is by our character that we are known and even judged. Will we attend to these prophets? Will we listen to and study our history? Or will we insist on rejecting it and refusing to teach it out of an allegiance to an agenda? Let us be mindful that doing so is not benign. For by refusing to mind the enlightened wisdom of the past, we are ensuring that the present and future are steeped in darkness.

As for myself, I choose to remember and strive for the light, no matter how imperfect it may be.

Aim High and Move Forward

The purpose of life is not to get everything we want. The purpose of life is not to make sure the waters we sail in are smooth all the time. The purpose of life is not to live free of pain and suffering.

The purpose is to become all we can be, to contribute to the world in a meaningful way, to make life better by becoming the best version of ourselves.

How do we do this? Aim high, reach, stretch, and look forward, and do all of this with as much goodness, kindness, and commitment to Truth as you can muster.

What if the mark I’m aiming for isn’t high enough? What if I fail? What if I’m wrong?

So what? The meaning is in the trying. The purpose is to pick something and go for it. Each step will lead to another and another and another.

It is not in the goal that the meaning of life appears. It is in the moving towards it that we uncover our purpose and new ways of expanding and evolving. It is in the inspired action that we discover our true strength.

What Are You Carrying?

Pick up the heaviest thing you can and carry it. –Jordan Peterson

As a mother and a human who is committed to nurturing, nourishing, and comforting others, especially my children, I choose and try everyday to live consciously, mindfully, and with as open a heart as I can. I’m not always as successful as I’d like to be, but I believe in choosing alignment as much as possible and aiming high.

There is admittedly a downside, though, to attending solely to the emotional, mystical, and spiritual realm. Without grounding, we can float away. We don’t want to become shackled by the isness of life, but ignoring it can also lead us to confusion in an arena with no boundaries or markers that show us where we are and where we’re headed.

What can be a useful antidote to getting lost in the ethereal, the chaotic, and an over abundance of limitlessness?

Well, the answer at least in part is focusing on the tangible, the orderly, and doing the next right thing in form. 

Too much “reality” makes us stiff and brittle, but too much transcendence can cause us to feel unable to take action.

Sometimes, we just need to choose to attend to our responsibilities and be useful. Sometimes it’s not the dream state that will assist us, but rather the decision to take the next right action. 

Sometimes, we just need to “pick up the heaviest thing we can and carry it.” 

Maybe this is an actual thing, like taking out the trash, walking the dog, making the bed, or getting the groceries out of the car. Or perhaps we respond metaphorically by having that difficult conversation, attending to a sad child, or visiting our friend in a nursing home. 

The heaviness of the thing can vary too. Maybe the heaviest thing you can lift is a grocery bag filled with strawberries or thanking your mom for picking you up at your friend’s house. Or perhaps the thing is really heavy, like the box of books you’re taking to the new house or calling your sister after a dispute.

The thing, real or figurative, doesn’t matter. The point is we’re attending to something that matters—to us and to others. We are being helpful, useful, and making a difference. 

Strangely enough, it’s in the isness, in the action, that something mystical actually happens: our spirit, our open-heartedness expands and evolves. Chaos and order, creativity and stability are constantly flowing and dancing and moving together. 

This is the life force and journey. Paying attention to this movement is what gives life meaning. 

What are you carrying today?

Dear Children

To all the young people who experience sadness, worry, or fear, this is for you.

Dear Children:

Are you sometimes sad? Worried? Afraid?

You are not broken or disorderd. You are the sensitive souls who feel deeply, see everything, and pay attention to your environment and others in it. This makes you not only incredibly special, but also essential to your friends, family, community, and world.

The question isn’t, how do you stop feeling? The question is, how can you direct these sensitivities in ways that help you feel productive, worthy, and contribute to the world?

Maybe you’re asking, what’s wrong with me? If so, let me tell you as a fellow human on this planet, nothing is wrong with you. You are right where you need to be right now. Whatever you’re feeling is inviting you to more. More, more, more. And asking for more always comes with disquiet, uncertainty, and often sadness or worry.

But this is where you are! You are breaking open to something new. You are being called simultaneously to intimate heart-centeredness and also Christ-inspired connection to people, things, ideas, and energies beyond your immediate ability to actually see them. They are there, though, no doubt. That you are feeling the way you are means you are discerning all that is calling you.

You are strong. You are always connected to Love and God. We see you. We are here for you. And we can’t wait to watch you burst forth into yourself. Again and again and again.