The time of Lent has come upon us again.
This year, as with last year, the only agreement that Angela and I have made is that "We are definitely doing a Lent blog" and "both of us had better contribute". This leaves me pretty much in the same place that I was last year: struggling to come up with an idea to write about for every day of the week, and in the middle of an endless supply of school work and real life obligations. Last year, I chose to write a weekly piece about things that began with every letter of "LENT". This year, I don't think I have the time to do that, and here's why.
As an added bonus to getting my teaching certification and my Master's degree, I've also decided to join RCIA and become Catholic.
I know. I must be crazy. With numerous other obligations and responsibilities, adding one more thing into this mix just seems insane. But with five more weeks to go or so until I'm confirmed Catholic, I can say I don't regret doing this now. The time just seems right. So, I started thinking about what I could do for a Lent blog this year, with time constraints, and homework, and lesson planning and all that lovely stuff that goes along with getting a degree and becoming a certified instructor, the only thing I can think to write about which would be managable is my experience going through RCIA, culminating in Lent, my first confession, first communion, and eventually confirmation. Last year, I avoided the topic of religion and politics as much as possible and wrote many a blog of how lame I was for having too much homework to write a blog, littered with appologies, and a sense that what I was doing wasn't really achieving anything or really in the spirit of a "Lent blog". This year, I choose to write about my experiences in my new chosen faith.
You are warned, reader.
I've participated in Ash Wednesday services before, but never at a Catholic church. I really didn't know what to expect. Essentially, it was the same as mass except we went up to the altar twice instead of once. Well, most people went up twice instead of once. I chose to stay back during the Eucharist because there were a lot of people and I don't think I can take it yet anyway. I had sort of an epiphany today, actually. The entire service is about recognizing our condition as sinners and the need for a savior, the ashes reminding us of our imperfect nature.
When I was growing up in a Protestant church, I pretty much always felt alone with my sins. I mean, the message doesn't really change about trying not to sin, but there's like this whole unspoken-ness about sins and sinning (at least in the church I grew up in, but I've heard similar things with other people I've talked to who are also Protestant). I want to focus on my own experience here, because I certainly don't believe that all churches are like this, or that only Catholic churches are free of what I've gone through growing up. But I digress. So my experience from my youth: sinning is a private matter between you and God; if you screw up, you pray about it and do better in the future. Feel guilty about it? Just keep preying. Sure, you could talk to someone about it, but there's a pretty good chance it's going to end up all over the church if you do, so just be prepared for that.
I feel like I've grown up with this skewed idea of sinners and sins from my upbringing. I personally have low self-esteem anyway, and I find I always put everyone else on this pedestal. I constantly struggle with guilt, feelings of inadequacy, more guilt, and a fear of letting others see me as anything less than a morally upright young woman who never makes mistakes because God forbid that happen. But today, as I'm sitting in a service reminding us that we're all sinners and inviting the entire congregation to come up and put ashes on their foreheads in acceptance of this fact, my mind was completely blown. For the first time in all the years of my life going to church, I no longer feel inadequate, or worried that anyone else is going to find out I'm a sinner. It's as if being a part of this experience, this acceptance of sin, this resolve to try to follow Christ and live a more righteous life has freed me from my old insecurities and perhaps to a degree, self-denial. I also feel like I've taken the first steps towards trying to be less judgmental, we'll see how that goes. One can only hope.
It's actually kind of remarkable how a little smudge on your forehead can really change you.