Last Sunday in worship, we wrote down what we needed to leave behind, let go of, before we could take the next step Jesus is calling us to. I wrote “anger.” There has been resentment wearing away at my heart, for a couple months, and I know I can’t keep letting it rot in there.
Of course, several times this week — while thinking, while cooking, while showering, while driving — I picked the anger back up again. I told myself, “You left that on the altar. Don’t pick it back up.” But old habits die hard, and thought grooves get worn down in our brain, ’til those neural pathways are hardened arteries.
One thing that helps is doing a breath prayer, which I started right around the time the resentment began. I breathe the word “mer-cy,” one syllable per inhale, the other for ex. So when I tense up in anger, I remember I’ve already left it behind, and breathe through the prayer word instead.
I have about an 8% success rate.
I watched a grandmother take her toddler granddaughter up for ashes. The priest said, “From dust you came, and to dust you shall return.” Afterward, the little girl kept wiping her eye. Some black dust must have fallen in.
I watched the grandmother carry the girl, wiping her eye, back to their seat.
“We are creatures destined to die,” says Stanley Hauerwas. And mothers consent to give birth to such creatures.
Mixed in with the paint, she used scratches and ash. Some of the ash banged off when we tried to hang the canvas.
An off-centered figure enters the painting, outlined in dark. I can’t tell if the figure is a man or a woman, and I think she did that on purpose. It has hands like mittens, cradling dark dirt.
Our bedroom is peppered with orange accents (which they say you’re not supposed to have in a bedroom, because the color wakes you up, but we do), so we wished her painting had orange. To match the pillows. We took the painting home and discovered that it did. The crouching figure, kneeling in the dust, has orange in its underarm, on its shoulder, dusting its kneecap. There’s orange smattered in the ashy chalk, orange highlighting knuckles. We were shocked. Now we loved the painting even more.
She’s trying to paint her way through the psalms. This one was 40.
I waited patiently upon the LORD;
he stooped to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the desolate pit, out of the mire and clay;
he set my feet upon a high cliff and made my footing sure.
Psalm 40:1-2, Book of Common Prayer
We prayed through the psalms as a neighborhood, gathering in a makeshift chapel with homemade paintings on the wall and candles with wicks that sounded like rain. One neighbor told us Psalm 40 was her birthday psalm, one she’d read daily for the year. She said she pictured God stooping to pick up a baby in a crib.
- stop looking at phone so much *
- don’t eat processed/added sugar **
- fast on Fridays †
- journal every day °
- blog every day?
- do a devotion with husband every day ‡
- get enough sleep
- don’t eat meat unless it came from a local farm where the animals were really and truly pasture-raised, not just “grass-fed” ***
- give to everyone who begs from you §
- pray in the contemplative way that achieves union with God ****
* The March 2018 issue of Oprah says people look at their phones, on average, 47 times a day. This seems low.
** The documentary Fed Up helps with this.
† I’m in a community musical and we have dress rehearsal the first Friday of Lent, then opening night the second Friday. I’m already a little worried about fainting. So never mind.
° Have actually done this for 121 days and counting. What helped was thinking of it not as a journal but as a logbook.
‡ Wondrous Encounters, by Richard Rohr
*** (At least, that’s the latest self-righteous designation I’ve bothered to learn.) The documentary Food, Inc. helps with this.
§ Matthew 5:42.
**** To say “achieves” probably betrays just how far I am from contemplative prayer.