Something to Keep in Mind During Lent

Though my temptation was different, the saint provides an example I would have done well to remember (from the life of St. Benedict):

On a certain day being alone, the tempter was at hand: for a little black bird, commonly called a merle or an ousel, began to fly about his face, and that so near as the holy man, if he would, might have taken it with his hand: but after he had blessed himself with the sign of the cross, the bird flew away: and forthwith the holy man was assaulted with such a terrible temptation of the flesh, as he never felt the like in all his life.

A certain woman there was which some time he had seen, the memory of which the wicked spirit put into his mind, and by the representation of her so mightily inflamed with concupiscence the soul of God’s servant, which so increased that, almost overcome with pleasure, he was of mind to have forsaken the wilderness. But, suddenly assisted with God’s grace, he came to himself; and seeing many thick briers and nettle bushes to grow hard by, off he cast his apparel, and threw himself into the midst of them, and there wallowed so long that, when he rose up, all his flesh was pitifully torn. So, by the wounds of his body, he cured the wounds of his soul, in that he turned pleasure into pain, and by the outward burning of extreme smart, quenched that fire which, being nourished before with the fuel of carnal cogitations, inwardly burned in his soul: and by this means he overcame the sin, because he made a change of the fire.

From which time forward, as himself afterward reported to his disciples, he found all temptation of pleasure so subdued, that he never felt any such thing. Many after this began to abandon the world, and to become his scholars. For being now freed from the vice of temptation, worthily and with great reason is he made a master of virtue . . . .

from the second chapter of Bk II of St. Gregory the Great’s dialogues

Lent Day 2

So, now that two days of Lent are just about done, how’s it been?

Basic. Very basic.

What I mean by that is I have learned how terribly disconnected I have become, in several ways. I have long wrestled with my ever-growing awareness that my mind is too, too often absent from my heart.  I have been learning how I seem to float along in a disembodied sort of frame of reference. My doxa is divided from my pragma. The Lenten focus on prayer, fasting and almsgiving reveals a triad of sundered connections.

Take for example the fasting. Fasting locates one’s faith within the temple of the body, wherein dwells the Holy Spirit. The focus on restricting one’s diet serves to bring the body, and with it, the passions, to one’s attention. I have been disconcerted and amazed to discover that Plato’s ugly horse of appetite controls the chariot of my living. Ours is a society rife with every conceivable and facile opportunity to indulge one’s passions. Thought, reason, the nous is bypassed altogether and the appetites are fed on a sort of autopilot. Is it eight or nine o’clock and am I about to sit down with my lovely bride to watch a crime drama? I’ll think nothing of grabbing a snack of crackers or chips.

Note that: I. Do. Not. Think.

Or take almsgiving. Our family certainly gives to our local parish. But how often do we think about the poor surrounding us?

Note again: I. Do. Not. Think.

Or prayer. Well, what else is to be said? I just am not practing prayer as I used to before our move. There have been some significant challenges related to the girls’ sleep schedule and my work schedule that have impacted this, of course. But the story is, I just fail to give to prayer the sort of thought and practice needed. By the time I remember I need to pray, I’m out the door, keys in hand, on my way to work.

I. Do. Not. Think.

Lent requires an intentionality about living that I ought to, but do not, cultivate. Wasn’t it on my very own blog that I posted, after having read and underlined in my copy of the book, the following words?

Attention to what goes on in the heart and to what comes forth from it is the chief work of a well-ordered Christian life. Through this attention the inward and the outward are brought into due relation with one another. But to this watchfulness, discernment must always be added, so that we may understand aright what passes within and what is required by outward circumstance. Attention is useless without discernment.

–Theophan the Recluse (in Igumen Chariton of Valamo, The Art of Prayer (Faber and Faber, 1966), p. 182)

But I live an inattentive life.

This then is my project for Great and Holy Lent. Beyond “successfully” attending to any of the forms and rules–and I have only been given the exhortation to do my best–the more essential matter is to pay attention.

In the words of the Lord, “What I say to you, I say to all, ‘Watch!'” (Mark 13:37)