“Nothing?” She asked me.
“Nothing.” I affirmed my prior answer but as is my habit the answer required some explaining and I suggested we wait until we get to the top of the hill when I would have the breath to say more about that. Really, I needed those three hundred yards to think my answer through a bit more because frankly I was as surprised as she was by my own response of “nothing.”
To be clear this year I made a conscious choice of “doing nothing” to observe Lent. I had just never heard myself say it aloud before. My spirit has been conflicted these first three and half weeks because I am holding on to the paradox “doing nothing” while at the same time finding myself drawn more deeply into the mystery of this season. To say I am “doing nothing” speaks more to the appearance of things than to the reality, because the reality is that my “nothing” is an invisible act of paying attention; to those whom I encounter in my work, to my children, to my spouse, to my self. This is not a practice I began on Ash Wednesday, however something about that Ash Wednesday experience drew me into a deepened intentionality towards the practice. I repeated those Ash Wednesday words over and over again smearing the ashes on cautious foreheads. “From dust you were made, to dust you shall return.” It dawned on me about 15 foreheads into the practice that I was merely using ancient poetic words to tell a whole lot of people that someday they will die.
Ash Wednesday is not a highly attended service because let’s be honest, who wants to be told that they are going to die? The repeated phrase reminded me that as badly as I want to be in control of things, my life is fragile and God my creator is at the end of the day ultimately in control and so perhaps instead of rushing through everything mindlessly I could spend a bit more time pausing, looking around, and breathing. I breathe in a breathe of curiosity. How do I feel about that encounter I just had? How do I transition from the intensity of holding this person’s story, to going home and preparing dinner for my children? Why am I having such a kneejerk reaction to what he just said to me? It turns out that the pausing, the breathing, the curiosity, are all working together forming the unintended, yet delightful consequence of creating space for the Holy Spirit. It is only that space that I surrender my anxieties and my agenda, the “it” that is causing me to react irrationally, all to will of God. So in hindsight in answer to my friend’s question I suppose that for Lent I am working on giving up a bit of “me” and taking in a bit more of God.