The question "What did you give up for Lent?" makes its rounds during many conversations right now. The usual answers came fast and furious. "Coffee." "Chocolate." "Butter." "Wine."
Some cheer at the amount of weight they will lose during this religious season. Others acknowledge it as a test of their willpower. For many, it's a witness to their faith.
Pope Francis offers a different reason for fasting and holds it up for our scrutiny.
In an article by Frances Rocca in the Catholic News Service, true fasting, as seen by Pope Francis, involves sharing food with those who are hungry.
"This is the charity or fasting that our Lord wants," says Pope Francis. "It means sharing our bread with the hungry, taking care of the sick, the elderly, those who can't give us anything in return."
Bears thinking about, doesn't it?
Myself, I did not give up a foodstuff or any other indulgence I enjoy.
Instead, I gave up fear. For me, that's mighty hard. Friends chuckle and think I am just evading depriving myself of delicious goodies. Not really.
By blocking fear, it gives me space to do positive things in my life, like express gratitude. If I am positive and calm, it impacts those around me and gives me the space to feed others' hunger – to listen to their concerns, to say yes when they ask for prayers, drive someone to an appointment.
In truth, the spur for this choice comes from the underside of a donkey. He was a paper statue that I chose from a tray at a January open Mass at the Marian Centre. The delicate camels and donkeys had a word of guidance tucked inside.
I chose a camel while thinking of a friend who is battling a chronic painful disease. I asked her later what word she got. "Courage."
Mine was "Gratitude." That surprised me and made me feel more than a little guilty. In fact, it made me cringe with shame. I know that I am grateful for kindness that happens or is given to me.
But do I always let the person or organization or heaven know? Time to make space for gratitude.
Fear and worry are hard habits to break. So I make a list of at least three or four positive things I am trying to do each day. This can be as small as writing a letter to a distant relative. Or putting a sticker on my computer telling me to be as silent as possible if I feel a worry worming itself into my psyche.
Every night or two, nightmares startle me awake at 1 a.m. But I am trying. Getting rid of fear opens a window for positive thoughts and actions.
First comes the scouring of one's daily life. Dashing. That's the word. Always running here, there, everywhere. Yet there always seems to be something undone, unsaid, not thought.
As I am writing this, I remember a former colleague's admonition, "So what's your plan? You have to have a plan."
So I bought a beautiful blank-paged book to map out a strategy for just about every aspect of my life.
Pages are still blank. I'm still dashing. So one ends up reacting instead of seizing life, dancing in its sunbeams, being drenched in its inevitable surprising snow and rain showers.
I have a major stumbling block when it comes to creating a blueprint for myself. Too often it involves asking people for something. I can still remember an archbishop, now a cardinal, chuckling and saying, "If you don't ask, you don't get."
So I'm off to do war with the black angel of fear. The way I'm tackling this battle is sending out thank you cards to those who have been so kind to me. I'm going to crack open that blank-paged book and map out a plan, actually many plans.
My real hope is that by giving up fear for 40 days it will be so ingrained it will become a habit. True there shall be situations and moments when I would be quite mad not to be afraid.
But it certainly would be a blessed relief to erase at least 90 per cent of it. My armour? Start the day with Father Mychal Judge's prayer:
"Lord take me where you want me to go; Let me meet who you want me to meet; Tell me what you want me to say; And keep me out of your way."
(Lasha Morningstar firstname.lastname@example.org)