Yesterday was the Second Sunday of Lent (Year C, for those who follow a three-year Sunday Lectionary), and we had as our first reading the story from Genesis of which I wrote almost a year ago.
I smiled, despite the fact that the translation we used rendered the Hebrew text as "smoking fire pot" instead of the word which can so easily be mispronounced.
But that's neither here nor there.
This year the whole of the month of March falls within the season of Lent, a phenomenon which has happened often over the course of my lifetime.
As I've written on perhaps several other occasions, I'm often accused of being easily distracted by sparkly things, so here comes one, now that I'm thinking of it. Lent, for Christian churches in the West (and I'm not talking California here), begins with Ash Wednesday for those of us who follow a liturgical calendar, and always occurs six and half weeks before Easter.
Easter (oops, here comes another sparkly thing), again for the West, is always the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox. I'm sure that has answered a question which has nagged you for years.
[Cue the stars streaking across the video monitor and the words, "The More You Know"; then fade to black.]
Now back to the original sparkly thing.
The earliest Ash Wednesday can occur is 04 February - which has happened only four times since 1572 (once each century, except for the Twentieth Century). The latest it can occur is 10 March -- which has happened only five times since 1572, the last of which was 1943; the next time will be in the year 2038).
Anyway, March is associated with sports madness these days, but I'd like to suggest trying some "March Mindfulness" as well.
Lent is a time for fasting, prayer, and almsgiving -- a time to reflect upon God's love in the midst of the mess of our lives, and not in spite of it. Some "March Mindfulness" can help us to allow the wonder and awe of that love to sink in, even as "March Madness" grips our attention.
Mindfulness can be something as simple as taking a few moments to become aware of our breathing. Feeling air move into and out of our bodies, and focusing our attention on that oft-taken-for-granted phenomenon, can calm and "center" us, even in the midst of the chaos and stress of our busy lives.
This works quite well, in my experience, especially when tensions are high and nerves are taut. Those kinds of situations happened for me with some regularity as then SFC-McG and I were flying off on a religious support mission via helicopter in Iraq, for example.
*He* was never stressed by those missions; he could -- and did -- sleep anywhere, no matter what was going on. I, on the other hand, was just a teeny-weeny bit terrified (for lack of a better word), so I found myself attempting to practice the mindfulness I'd heard my friends who go to a lot of AA and Al-Anon meetings talking about.
Simply making the effort to breathe with intentionality really did facilitate a decrease in stress. But only when I remembered to do it!
Knowing about stuff like this is one thing. Actually practicing it is something entirely different.
Anyway, I recommend making -- and taking -- time to breathe deeply at least five deep and slow breaths when you find your innards tied up in knots, and you're sure the sun is burning out (as my friend Annie L says).
When I add in one or another (or both!) very simple prayer, the exercise works even better: "Help me!" and/or "Thank you!"
During this Lenten season I'm attempting to incorporate that bit of "March Mindfulness" into my daily activities, and not just into my regular morning and evening prayer times. I'm hoping it will reduce some of the madness which can come with the month.
Perhaps you might find it helpful, too.
Blessings and peace to one and all,
Fr. Tim, SJ