People spend nearly all of their time moving in ways they don't need to control consciously: breathing, blinking, swallowing, etc. We came into the world knowing how to do those things. Other movements have become so common that we no longer have to consider them. Feet on the sidewalk. Fingers on a keyboard. Once upon a time, I would have listed front crawl and flutter kick.
Last night, I realized I have another unconscious movement, something I do without even thinking about: thumb on a touchscreen.
Which brings us to Lent. I don't know about yours, but if my ashes had been a Pokemon, they were most definitely Squirtle.
For years, I've had a bad relationship with Lent, because I didn't like how most people approached it yet couldn't commit to coming at it from what I believe to be the correct angle.
Let's be honest: In high school and college, Lent is nothing more than an excuse to go on a diet. Sweets. Chocolate. Meat. Bread. I still recall my senior year of high school, when I gave up cookies* and ended up having more than one philosophical conversation about what food category Pop-Tarts belong in.
As the years went by, it bothered me that the "what" seemed so much more important than the "why."
In today's Gospel (and in one of the most quoted Bible passages you can think of), Jesus says, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me." And of course, when you get your ashes, you are reminded that you will one day be ash.
In one way, those two ideas form a straightforward message. The material world will perish. Deny the material world and prepare yourself for what's next. And so giving up chocolate becomes a symbol, your tiny act of reconciliation and rebellion. You don't need chocolate to survive. Man does not live on bread alone.
But I always thought the message was more complex. Every day is a movement toward that ash, and you move in the same way every day. You walk the same paths, do the same work, breathe, blink, swallow, sleep. The material world will perish, and you're not even paying attention. But now it's time to be mindful, to live with intent and awareness. Lent shouldn't be a tiny rebellion. It should be a radical revolution in your daily routine.
See how that would be harder?
My daily routine goes something like this: Wake up, go to work, leave work, get home, Netflix. On Wednesdays, I have wine.
So, in the hopes of attempting to enjoy the opportunities around while I have them, I've given up using the Internet outside of working hours. In theory, this frees up my time to go to the gym, take classes, read books and magazines that I have but never finish, write, reflect, etc.
In practice, I probably should have actually made a schedule of things to do. Not using the Internet is boring. Seriously, what did we do with our time before smart phones?
Yesterday, I had my usual wine plan, which generally begins at 9pm. (Ash Wednesday fasting rules says one meal, two snacks. It does not mention wine.) I kind of gave in to boredom before that - I read for a while, then I watched a DVD. I texted quite a few people, which is how I discovered the phenomenon that is my hand: Every time I closed out of my text messages, my thumb immediately swiped left, hit two buttons and, boom, I was in Twitter. I had turned the data off on my phone, so nothing loaded, but I was in the app. Each time I realized this had happened, I clicked out of Twitter - and my thumb immediately hit the Facebook button. It's a motion I probably make 10-15 times a day.
I'm happy to try to break myself of that habit, and hopefully will be able to replace my current habits with better ones, staying busy and boredom-free, but not routine. This is the challenge of Lent, in my mind: Not giving something up, exactly, but changing how you interact with some piece of the world around you.
So, to re-phrase my Lenten promise: As I move forward through the next 40 days, I won't pass the time. Instead, I'll do my conscious best to live.
*If you think cookies were an invalid choice because, really, how many cookies does one eat in a given amount of days or weeks?, then you did not go to my high school.