Use what you have: An Easter meditation

Photo by Summers, flickr

This year, for the first time in ages, I had a productive Lent. Not because I sacrificed something (though, in a way, I did). And not because I added something (though, in a way, I did). What made the difference this Lent -- the Christian Church's 40-day period of penitence and fasting from Ash Wednesday to Easter -- was that I practiced something.

Now, this wasn't practice in the sense of "spend 30 minutes with your violin each day." I vowed at the start of Lent that my practice -- my intentional application -- would be to use what I have. This meant: Eat what's in the pantry. Wear what's in the closet. Mend what's broken. Pick up what's neglected. In essence, I would do my best to honor what I already possessed.

Did it work? Yes. But not in the way I anticipated.

Every day, at every decision point, I said  to myself, "Use what you have." So I drank the tea I had at the office instead of stopping at Starbucks. I dug clothes out of the back of the closet and gave away what I knew I wouldn't wear anymore. I scoured my cupboards and freezer for forgotten ingredients and learned new recipes that incorporated them.

Soon, however, without me realizing it, the practice expanded beyond tangible possessions. I considered the moral implications of what I purchased, if it had any hidden environmental or social justice costs. When making plans with friends, I did my best to find activities that were free or inexpensive.  If I ended up eating out, I tried to order simpler, lighter food. I even scrutinized my time more -- how was I allocating it, for what, with whom? Were those precious hours productive? Fulfilling? And if not, how could I make them so?

Most of all, I was struck by how often I was repeating my Lenten mantra. Looking back, I probably invoked it at least 200 times over forty days. I never noticed before how many opportunities I had throughout a day to make a different choice, to pause for a minute and truly consider what was before me.

The result? I felt lighter. Less clutter, both material and mental, surrounded me. Without intending to, I had made room, giving my life some much-needed margins again.

Which brings me to today, Easter, the highest holy day in my faith tradition. I was sitting at services this morning, listening to the homily, when the priest started talking about our constant human quest to figure out what the hell our lives are all about. He said (and I paraphrase), "From the moment your parents created you to today, God has prepared you to be who you are for this moment. So why hold onto our pasts? You are ready now. You have what you need."

And there it was, the lesson that took me forty days to understand: Use what you have to find what you need.

In my case, I needed to make space for contemplation and reflection so I can check in with God on where I am and what I might do next. And now that I have it, I'll use it. And once I use that I'll discover a new gift, and then I'll use that, and on and on I'll go in a gorgeous virtuous cycle, never alone, never abandoned, never unloved.

May we all use what we have. Happy Easter, everyone.

Prayer #244: Use All That I Am

Possess me, God, threadbare rag that I am, in a way that's not about having, but releasing. Pull me from the back of the closet, dunk me in the hottest water You can run, wring out the calcified crust I've gathered, and drape me over the balcony rail to dry, where I'll have nothing to do in the warm sun except flutter, and think, and wonder how I can earn being washed so clean.