07 March 2017

Lenten Rule: The Best Laid Plans Often "Gang aglay" --- so Hold them Lightly!!

I am sitting in the sunroom of the Dominican house, "Our Lady of the Lake" at Lake Tahoe. It took us an extra day to get here because I 80 was closed yesterday most of the day due to zero visibility. (There was lots of snow, very powdery, blowing down into the foothills!) The best laid plans. . . . Because I put foodstuffs away in the fridge yesterday after we decided we could not come up, of course I left some of it in the fridge this morning! Either we will have to go to the store or (except for dinners, of course) I will be eating peanut butter most of the week! The best laid plans. . . you know how it goes! Of course, reminders of the Donner party's tragic saga in these very mountains about 160 years ago is hard to avoid and makes peanut butter --- peanut butter and crackers, peanut butter sandwiches, peanut butter and sardines, or even peanut butter on a spoon by itself in the absence of something to drink --- sound downright sumptuous, a delight to entertain! The best laid plans. . .often gang aglay!" Sometimes disastrously so!

Lent can be a little like that. Oh, not that it ever ends in tragedy of course (at least it doesn't do so for me usually! How can it when the "end" of the Season is Easter?), but as much as we plan for it, God will always surprise us. (Again, the season culminates with that ultimate surprise and making ALL THING NEW: EASTER!) So, this is the second half of my "What do you do for Lent?" post. In the first half I wrote about the way I approach Lent and the plans I made for the 40 days. In this half the lesson is essentially that whatever we plan, God's own movement will usually take us in directions we never thought of --- and this is the really exciting part of Lent, the part that says, "We are not in this alone and the One who is in this with us is just SO much bigger and more amazing than we can even conceive! Be open to (Him). Together amazing things can and will happen!"

But it DOES take planning! I remember reading a number of years ago about a diocesan hermit whose Rule was a scant paragraph and whose daily prayer schedule was left wide open "so the Holy Spirit would have the space to work freely!" There were no planned prayer periods, no Liturgy of the Hours, no time for walks or art or lectio divina, or even for the well-deserved and needed nap! (And, I just have to ask, when did the bathroom get cleaned or the laundry get done?) But the truth is that unless we make some plans of our own, unless we have a schedule of some sort, a vision of the way the day ordinarily goes, a regular and balanced round of prayer and rest and recreation, for instance, what is more apt to have dominion during our day than the Holy Spirit is our own ennui and idleness --- our our workaholism and activism.

A similar "heresy" I think is the notion that God has everything planned out in detail, that God will knock all of our plans into a cocked hat anyway, so best not to plan at all! Just go with the flow --- or without any flow at all, I guess. God will show us what to think, or read, or what work needs doing and will even fashion our dreams for us! Sometimes this is called quietism. Paul saw it as laziness and opined that those that sat waiting for the second coming should go hungry. The Desert Fathers and Mothers have a couple of charming stories about the same problem. As one lay hermit writes: [[Already, yesterday and again today, in the Order of the Present Moment: God unfolds Lent. It is God Who chooses, Who controls, Who plans and unfolds Lent. God does so individually, uniquely, and collectively. ]] Well, yes. And no! We are taught, "Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God!" This notion that God plans our lives right down to the very least detail, right down to the food we leave in our refrigerators at home --- or the faulty travel plans made by the Donners (!) --- seems to me strangely like tempting the Lord God!

On the other hand I know of congregations of hermits whose every minute outside sleep is a regimented round of prayer periods, periods of devotions, etc. etc. Personally I dislike both options --- alternately, they seem to either give the Holy Spirit too little to work with or not nearly enough space to work in without also tempting the Lord God to intervene in some pre-conceived way. In either case, but especially the latter, I always wonder where is the time to PRAY?!*** You know, not where is the time to say prayers or slide from thing to thing without real thought, decision, or purpose, but where is the time to consciously and deliberately sit down as one might with anyone who deserved one's full attention, to breathe slowly, to get quiet, center in, and just let God work within one however God desires to do that! Jesus tells us that we are to pray without ceasing. I am pretty certain that he did not mean "Say prayers and do devotions without stopping!" Instead, I think God really means for us to become the incarnations of (His) own prayer and breath. And that, it seems to me, means some planning and hard work on our own part as we remain open to the newness and surprises God always brings. The key is not to NOT PLAN, but instead, to always hold our own plans lightly --- even as we work hard at our writing or teaching or leadership tasks or work with clients, etc. Our own best laid plans often go awry but the key is to entrust them and ourselves to God's own future-making mercy.

All good wishes for your own first week of Lent. I plan (just saying!!!) to blog several more times while I am here, but if that should devolve into long disquisitions on the creative uses of peanut butter, you'll know why! It will remind you to pray for me as I do for you!

*** In light of several questions I have received, I should say, for the moment, that of the two options given above, the one without plans and the other with a rigidly filled horarium, the first one makes most sense for an authentic hermit with a mature spirituality. Presuming the hermit really knows how to listen to God, is really in tune with what she must have to live everyday in real obedience, and is rooted in the God who comes to us in the ordinary, this "planless" approach could work quite well. But it would not work for most people and generally not at all for non-hermits or those who have retired and live alone. The first option seems to me to be geared for mature hermits then (but I still bet it leaves a lot unstated and is not as "planless" as purported), the second is geared, I think, for beginners who are new to physical solitude and silence. The genuine contemplative eremitical life falls somewhere between the two and closer to the first than the second. So again, plan but hold those plans lightly as you remain open to the Holy Spirit's movement.