I’m not a Catholic, but I frequently choose to observe Lent. Unitarian-Universalists draw on the wisdom of all world religions, plus science, reason, and humanism to form our own personal credos, and I find the practice of abstaining from something I normally enjoy for a defined period each year to be spiritually nourishing.
In the past I’ve become a vegetarian for the duration, or I’ve given up wine or sugar (but never chocolate). This year as I contemplated my choices, I couldn’t get motivated to skip the corned beef on St. Patrick’s Day or the lamb stew on Persian New Year. I’d already bought a bottle of Dom Perignon for a family celebration. Besides, I don’t really view any of those things as sinful or unhealthy, in moderation. Jesus provided wine for the wedding, after all, and he would have loved chocolate if the wise men had brought him some.
Then a friend posted on Facebook that she was giving up disorganization for Lent. Suddenly a new vista opened up–I could give up unhealthy mind habits instead of food. Without thinking much about it, I replied that I would give up worry for Lent. I wasn’t terribly serious about this, but forming that intention suddenly made me aware of just how much time I spend in unnecessary worry. This led immediately to worrying about how much I worry, so I turned to the meditation technique of labeling the thought without judgment and flicking it away like a bothersome fly.
I haven’t yet come upon a necessary worry. As many of the world’s wisest have reminded us, the past is gone, the future is still fantasy, and as long as we’re still breathing the present is nothing to worry about. And yet a veritable swarm of those bothersome flies plagues me at all hours of the day and night.
First, there are the typical parental worries. I calculate when my teenage daughter should be home with the car, then have to imagine reasons why she isn’t home at that time. I have a good imagination. I also worry about dreaded diseases caused by nutritional deficiency because she still hates green vegetables, although I know that George Bush Senior managed to become President of the United States and live a long and healthy life despite a hatred of broccoli. I even worry when she swims in the rain.
We’re also waiting for those Big Envelopes for her. It’s actually a bit less dramatic now, as the verdicts are all posted on the Web and she finds out via her friends on Facebook when to log in to look. The college admissions committees are not going to respond to the frantic vibes I keep sending them, and the truth is that all the schools to which she applied are excellent schools where she will be happy. And in fact, so far they’ve all said yes.
I even found myself worrying what my son would do with his cats if he was assigned a residency away from Los Angeles and had to pack up his apartment before he goes to Europe next month. He hadn’t yet made plans for that possibility. As it turns out, he will stay at UCLA for his residency and keep his apartment. I’m sure if he made it through medical school he’s intelligent enough to find a neighbor to feed his cats.
When the first digit of my age changed, the health worries intensified. Is my husband showing early signs of dementia because he wrote the wrong amounts on two checks on the same day? Am I, since I can remember who wrote “The Death of a Moth” (which I have never read) but not the name of the book I finished reading yesterday? Should I worry about all of the spots on my skin, or did I just inherit my once red-headed mother’s propensity for freckles?
Should I throw out food that is past its expiration date? Should I keep eating shellfish even though my eyes itch when I indulge in crab or lobster? Am I feeding my family pesticides and growth hormones, and is there E. coli on the organic vegetables fertilized naturally? Does the gas used by the CSA delivery van offset the environmental advantages of supporting a local farmer?
I put off doing our taxes till last weekend, because I was afraid we would owe thousands of dollars and have to sell stock to pay it and then owe more taxes next year on the stock we sold, and so on in a never-ending cycle until we end up in bankruptcy. We’re actually getting a large enough refund to pay off the credit card balance, which is also a perpetual worry.
As a performing musician, I worry about the stage floor cracking open when I make a mistake; as lightening strikes me I will sink down into a special purgatory for musicians, accompanied by jeers and rotten tomatoes from the audience and looks of utter disgust from the conductor who hired me. It hasn’t happened yet.
I could go on, but I’ll end with the other element from Catholicism that attracts me–the worship of Mary. At Chartres Cathedral in 2006 I lit a candle to Mary and asked simply for peace. She hasn’t delivered for the world yet, but I’m making progress on the inner variety.
When I find myself in times of darkness, Mother Mary comes to me, speaking words of wisdom:
“Let it Be.”