Repeating Last Year’s Lent

Repeating Last Year’s Lent February 10, 2016

armchair mystic

I’m doing the same thing this year for Lent as I did last year:

  • Giving up jaywalking
  • Trying contemplative prayer

Mostly on the grounds that both were still frustrating by the end of last year’s Lent, so I figure there might be more to learn from both.  Not jaywalking left me on tiptoe at curb, waiting to sprint into the street, which didn’t so much fix my impatience as at least make it ridiculous.  Watching the crosswalk on the other side tick down from 30 and finding it intolerable to be stopped for up to half a minute is, at least, humbling.

But trying contemplative prayer was mostly just frustrating (as my problems with waiting at crosswalks may suggest).  I don’t like waiting, I don’t like silence, and the only times I avoided impatiences were the times I tried contemplative prayer in a too-comfortable posture and fell asleep.

So, by midway through Lent, my contemplative prayer attempts were pretty much reduced to using the time at crosswalks to be silent.

This year, since I don’t seem any better prepared for this that last time, I’m reading a chapter a day of Armchair Mystic: Easing Into Contemplative Prayer by Mark E. Thibodeaux, SJ.  It’s got exercises, at least, so I’m pleased not to be just on my own recognizance. And I’ll wait (possibly patiently) to see what grows out of it.


And, as you discover who else in your office, or commute, or anywhere else is Catholic today, I figured I’d share the “Catholic Census” essay I wrote for First Things, on doing more with the neighbors we don’t know we have:

Any other Saturday night, I might technically be able to pray with a stranger, but I wouldn’t have known how to ask. The papal visit drew people out, and made it easy to disclose our faith to each other. It felt like a much more joyful and communal version of the annual Catholic Census that happens on every Ash Wednesday.

I might notice the smudges on my coworkers’ foreheads but I don’t start conversations. The somber, sin-focused nature of the day makes it hard to imagine introducing myself and asking someone to coffee or to pray for me. It just means that, for a day, the Catholic-heavy demographics of my city become visible to me.


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