Lent this year

It has now been six days since my Lent/Ash Wednesday reflection post, in which I promised I would post what I am doing for this Lenten season in a day or two. It should surprise no one at this point to hear that, on the Myers-Briggs personality type indicator, I am a P (this is a constant source of annoyance to my fiancée, who is a J), given the number of things I have intended to post “in a day or two” or “in the near future” that as-yet remain in blog limbo. And so, without further ado, here are my Lenten practices for this season and the reasons why I am doing them.

1. Going vegetarian – I am giving up meat (though not milk, eggs, and other animal products) for the season. It is particularly well-documented that modern industrial agriculture is one of the worst contributors to global warming and also to air, soil, and water pollution in the world, and animal agriculture is particularly bad. I also feel there is a strong injustice in spending so much caloric energy on feeding captive animals (who often live and die in horrendous conditions) when over a billion people around the world are malnourished. The average American consumes over 3600 calories per day, and meat forms a much larger fraction of that number than is in any way healthy. Reflection on the relationship between my life and justice issues (both regarding humans and the rest of creation) is a major theme for me this year.

2. In addition to allowing me to reflect on my environmental footprint and the relationship between food and justice, going vegetarian inherently forces me to change my grocery shopping habits. Since they will be changing anyway, instead of driving my car across town to a large supermarket grocery store I have committed to only shopping at places that are within biking distance. I am not necessarily always biking to these places, due to a number of factors, but I prefer to bike if possible. The place where I am shopping most is the local cooperative grocery which prefers to stock organic and local items as much as possible. So I’m trying to reduce my use of oil-based transportation both for myself and for my food. When I go back to eating meat at the end of the season, I hope to drastically reduce my consumption and to purchase meat at the coop, which gets mainly local, ethically-raised (free-range, grass fed, etc.) animal products. This is part of a larger, longer-time strategy to begin taking more responsibility for the food I consume, which will include more emphasis on gardening (I am a member of a local gardening cooperative as well) and other more direct ways of providing food for myself.

3. I have committed myself to not using my debit card for purchases during Lent, except to buy gas (I get some small rewards when I use my card for gas, and it’s the one thing I’m going to have to buy whether I use my card or cash) and instead going to the ATM to actually, physically get cash. It doesn’t work this way for everyone, but I’ve found that when I have to get cash myself I spend less money than I do when I can just swipe the card. So nearly every purchase that I make will have to be premeditated, and I will only get enough cash to cover what I’m going to get up to the next denomination my ATM will let me get (which is generally in $10 increments). This allows me to be much more intentional and reflective about my consuming habits in general, while still (when I have the leftover change) allowing me to stop in at the coffee shop for an occasional cup, and maybe a bagel. This may actually be something I want to keep doing after Lent, I’ve already noticed a difference.

4. As a Benedictine Oblate, I am committed to praying the Psalms each day (which I do by using the daily offices from the Book of Common Prayer), reading daily from the Rule of Saint Benedict, and practicing lectio divina regularly. To this I have added the daily practice of the Ignatian discipline of examen, a meditative practice focused on examining the inner self, one’s actions and the motivations for those actions, and asking God to bring one’s actions and motivations in line with God’s will. I’ve been reading Robert Muholland’s Invitation to a Journey, and one of the things he emphasizes is that the journey of spiritual formation will differ from person to person based on what he calls “creation gifts”, and one way he discusses creation gifts is in terms of one’s Myers-Briggs personality type indicator. It’s not the ONLY factor that should shape one’s spiritual practice, but much of what he says makes good sense to me. I am an ENFP, and so I will naturally gravitate towards practices that reflect those personality preferences. In order to have a more holistic spirituality, I need to consciously nurture the “shadow side”, my opposite type: my inner ISTJ. Practicing examen will help me to nurture my introspective side and give me space to process my day, opening up my self in new ways to be transformed by the work of the Spirit in me. I also plan to continue this practice after Lent is over, but Ash Wednesday seemed a particularly appropriate time to begin it.

This Lent I am particularly taking time to examine my consumptive practices, particularly with regards to food and the way I move money from my account to the merchant’s register, and situating it all with an attempt to foster a greater awareness of my inner motivations. I hope to take many things from this season with me even as I prepare to release more of my self to be nailed to the cross with Christ on Good Friday.

Shalom!

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