The Spirit Of Lent

March 28th, 2015 by Magdalena Tabor

I wasn’t going to talk about it. But when people at work asked me what I was “giving up” for Lent I decided to tell them. It’s not so much a matter of giving up as it is a matter of giving. the spirit of lentAfter all, we’re not kids anymore. Giving up “soda” benefits you and no one else. After some debate (with myself) I decided I had to feel what it is to actually suffer while at the same time benefit someone else in return. I would give up my Friday Morning Special, a bacon and egg with cheese sandwich, and give it to a homeless person instead. In essence, I was trading places with him (or her) and they would get to eat while I would feel what it was to have hunger gnawing at my stomach. This noble gesture lasted the first two weeks as I gradually gave in to the temptation of filling my gut. By the third week I was no longer waiting until noon, but nibbling something at 11 am, then at 10. No matter, I reasoned, I was still experiencing the unbearable reality of having nothing to eat. Really? What about going all day or for days on end? Jesus fasted for forty days, the homeless do it all the time and not by choice. And me? Well, don’t be too hard on yourself. Our talents to releive the suffering spirits of others lie in all directions. We need to be different to fill different needs.
I decided, while still participating in my hunger trade off (I’m still working at it), that I would also go to church during my lunch hour and pray for those in need. Oh, I still have to cheat and eat lunch at my desk first, and then go so the growling lion in my stomach doesn’t echo through the uppermost chambers of the cathedral and disturb everyone else. That’s considerate, isn’t it? One would think that even in the heart of midtown Manhattan, here, in this beautiful sanctuary is a haven of peace. But this is where the homeless are fed each morning by the friars of both St. Francis of Assisi and St. John the Baptists churches. The homeless linger because there’s no place else for them to go. They’re found sleeping in the pews, snoring or dozing off while the working class stop in to murmur petitions into God’s ear. The crowd is not your usual one but I’ve come to accept that it’s more normal than my usual parish. After all, there are all kinds of people and the unfortunate ones are a grim reminder of what charity is supposed to be.
Along with the sad state of the world scattered between the hard wooden pews serving as resting places, there are all manner of unexpected and rather unholy sounds that detract from the overall experience of trying to muster a sense of devotion in the space of 60 minutes. The clattering of mop and pail as the janitor performs his churchly duty. The intrusive ring tone of a cell phone finding its way even here and then answered by its recipient with no regard to the inner conversations of those around her. The couple continuing their conversation as they walk in from the street as if they’re walking into a Starbuck’s to order a latte. And then the lack of decorum extends treating the church as a public space to read the newspaper, and get this, feet propped up on the pew in front of him! It’s okay to be comfortable in God’s house but this is not your living room. I promised myself not to be judgemental but….c’mon.
Well, here’s the surprise. I walked into church yesterday right in the middle of Stations of The Cross. For those of you unfamiliar with Catholicism, the Stations are the re-enactment of Jesus’s crucifixtion. There were only a few people but I found a place in back where I wouldn’t disturb the group already in progress. The priest was at the pulpit conducting this somber service. But there, in the middle of the aisle, on bended knee, was the same man I see every day reading his paper, the construction worker with the audacity to prop his feet up on the pew in front of him. He was the most devout of all ! And he even collected the little booklets from the people at the end of the service.
So, in this Spirit of Lent, bring yourseld as you are, with all of your God-given imperfections and be transformed. Miracles happen even, or shall I say especially, in New York City. After all, I may still one day bring an empty stomach. The possibilities are there.

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