Spring [Personal] Discipline

The winter is so far from wearing to its end. I look out the window and see three feet of snow, but the sun is out and there is a freshness on the air when I venture to crack a window or open the door to call my children in, their noses and cheeks sufficiently red and snow gear shining wet across the yard. At least the promise of spring is in the wind, though still far off. I glance at our liturgical calendar and note the number of weeks left until Great Lent, the preparatory time before the greatest annual celebration of our faith, Pascha.
I have read that in many countries, Russia and Eastern Europe most notably, this 40-day period of abstinence from consuming animal products (among other things) was a practical means of getting through the last phase of winter, stretching a family’s supply of farmed goods until the weather relented enough to begin spring planting. The practice is threefold, however: we conserve what we have, but in order that we can give to those in need. Also: we pray and meditate as we work on increasing virtue and diminishing vice, and so draw nearer to Christ in preparation to celebrate His resurrection.

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Another Spring, without so much snow!

As a newly converted Orthodox Christian, the Lenten Fast seemed a horrible ordeal to be undergone. Admittedly, I was spared the first three years of participation because I was either pregnant or breastfeeding. But the first year I was eligible to participate, I was floored by the intensity of the experience. It also turned out my health was not going to allow me to eat vegan for such a duration without serious consequences. As a result, my Spiritual Director urged me to focus on the spiritual and giving aspects of the time, which were almost harder. Giving is a joy to me, and I can almost never do as much as I would like, but increased prayer and weeding out some of my worse habits proved incredibly challenging. And, after a time, I realized it is supposed to be exactly that. The challenge of leaving one’s comfort zone is immensely stretching. Being accountable to a priest/Spiritual Director ensures accountability. And I have noticed that, especially at first, the spiritual undercurrents in one’s life always make it harder, for me at least. I am always hit hardest when and where I am weakest, and usually just when I think I am starting to do well. I am beginning to find it almost worth a laugh. And I am beginning to settle into the rhythm of the Fasting seasons (they average one per season, of differing duration–Great Lent is the longest). So now, I find myself anticipating the change in the seasons, the change in spiritual rhythms, the outward practices in aid of the inner progress.
The first week of Great Lent is Clean Week, an excellent precursor to good old Spring Cleaning, but with the intent of clearing out all our junk, all we don’t need, and all our grime, personal and physical. In addition, things that we don’t need may be useful to others, and again we are encouraged to give/donate instead of hoard/clutter (a greater and harder act for some of us). We are also encouraged not to spend unnecessarily during Great Lent, to be less materialistic, and again, help those in need with either our time, talent, or resources (either money or “stuff”).
This year, something in me started Clean Week over a month early (perhaps because I usually start when everyone else does, and am still cleaning when Pascha rolls around), and interestingly, something in me followed step by taking a long, quiet look inward. Time to uproot the unnecessary and harmful, time to prepare the soil for the season of planting and growth. Time for the new season, the new “year” in the natural sense of things, and a time where we celebrate Life anew. Glory to God!
Though, knowing me and my house, I may still be cleaning when Pascha rolls around…

A Winter Resolution

Thanksgiving is over, and though I endeavor to make a thankful attitude,”Perpetual” as Emerson put it, I am relieved to have checked off another holiday.
Last year I celebrated Thanksgiving from the couch, with my leg elevated, and throbbing from the previous week’s surgery. This year, I am grateful to be walking after a recovery more difficult than I would have imagined.
While I’m determined to get back on my feet in more ways than one, I have decided to take things slow this year. Minimal organization. No Christmas arts& crafts fairs. No extra commitments of any kind. Since I haven’t had an income for the past year, all of our Christmas gifts will be homemade, and I hope no feelings will be hurt if I don’t get to everyone.
I plan to make my health a taboo subject, at least until mid-January-ish. I do not want to hear the words “Ehlers-Danlos,” or “cancer” come out of my mouth unless I am speaking to someone in scrubs. I will not let my illness be a set of ghostly chains dragging me down through the season. I want to celebrate. I want to teach my children Christmas songs and traditions. Not just our own, but the richness of our panoply of friends and families, a wide spectrum of joy.0510151939
I want to eat and celebrate, and I plan to care for myself, but I do not want to let my illness eclipse my life. For the next month-and-a-half, I’ll try to say if I’m feeling less than great, but beyond that, I’d rather not share. I appreciate concern and thoughtfulness, but it’s a season of joy, and I want to keep the focus on joy. I don’t view this as denial, because although I am ill, I think excessive focus on it due to constant medical follow-ups and well-intentioned conversations are causing me to remain in a “sick person” mindset. I don’t believe the constant reminders of my illness are healthy, and I find they detract from my enjoyment of life. I personally believe the body/mind/spirit is a potent connection between attributes of the whole person, and I think that where the mind dwells the body may well follow. The irony of this statement in view of my “dark” style and tastes is not lost on me, but most of us are not so clear-cut or monochromatic enough to be that simple. 🙂
That said, blessings to all in the coming season of Light!