March 1 was the beginning of Lent. For Catholics and other Christians, it’s a time of self-sacrifice. It’s meant to symbolize Jesus’ time spent in the desert, during which he is said to have had nothing to eat or drink.
Even many people who aren’t Christians use Lent as a time to abstain from their vices. Many people, regardless of faith, give up smoking or alcohol or eating red meat. Others give up sweets and sugar.
I had been thinking about giving something up for Lent this year, but never quite got around to deciding on something meaningful. Instead, someone from my church shared a link to the UU Lent Facebook group. As a Unitarian Universalist, I was intrigued by the idea of approaching Lent from a UU perspective rather than a more traditionally Christian one.
According to the people behind the Facebook group, UU Lent (also known by the hashtag #uulent) is:
[…] a way for Unitarian Universalists to engage in a shared spiritual practice alongside siblings in faith who are observing Lent. In some Christian traditions, in preparation for the celebration of Easter, the faithful make a personal sacrifice as a way of bringing them closer to G*d, and reminding them of the sacrifices that Jesus and his followers made.
As Unitarian Universalists, we share theological roots with our Christian siblings. However, rather than a practice of self-denial, this is an opportunity to spend the Season of Lent engaged in a spiritual discipline of deep intention and appreciation of our world, our place in it, and an openness to Grace in our daily lives.
This idea appealed to me quite a bit, for a number of reasons, which I shared on Facebook at the start of the Lenten season. I’ll quote myself directly:
I’m going to [take part in UU Lent]. Hopefully, it will provide some focus and much needed spiritual discipline in my life. It may even lead to on-going practices to help keep me centred and focused on what’s most important.
Since I haven’t been to church in ages (partly due to D’s nap time, but also because I’m lazy and lack the discipline to get out of the house on Sunday morning), this will act as a spiritual practice – whatever that might mean for a humanist – and maybe even encourage me to make a greater effort to get to Sunday services at the ol’ UCE.
It’s been an interesting experience so far. For the most part, I’ve found myself simply meditating on the daily words. As I think about what they mean to me – particularly from a spiritual/religious perspective – I try to put them into meaningful practice going forward. It sometimes seems easy. “Love” just means loving my family, right? Well, no, actually. I think it must mean more than that if I’m going to make it a spiritual practice. It must mean something close to the radical love Jesus spoke of.
That kind of radical love is difficult and uncomfortable. But I’m trying. I’m trying to love the street person struggling with addiction issues as much as I love the child he endangers by discarding his syringe on the street. I’m trying to love the people supporting the fascist regime that’s unfolding in the United States. And I’m trying to reconcile loving those people while still resisting, fighting and even hating the thing they support. It’s hard. I fail more often than not, but it’s an important practice.
Today’s word is “vulnerability.” This one is difficult. Like most people, I don’t like to feel vulnerable. Vulnerability can seem like weakness. And you can be hurt if you allow yourself to be vulnerable.
What does vulnerability mean for me? I think it means being more in touch with my emotions and more willing to express them. This is something I’ve never been good at. Despite having long had a bad temper (which has mellowed a lot with age), I’ve generally been the type to keep my cool and not show much emotion – good or bad.
I won a Vespa from a radio station several years ago and the person who took my photo when I went in to claim my prize joked that I didn’t seem very excited. I was, but I didn’t show it. I’m not sure I even knew how to show it.
This ability to be cool can be helpful. I’ve been known in various jobs over the years as the guy who always remains calm under pressure. In truth, I’m often in a state of mild panic just below the surface. But not letting that show has generally served me well in my professional life.
Still, there’s something to be said for being in touch with one’s emotions, especially in one’s personal life. So that’s where I’ll start. I’ll try to be more open and emotionally vulnerable at home, where it’s safer to do so. If I succeed, it should lead to greater intimacy with my wife and family.
And since UU Lent is a religious exercise, I’ll try to apply this practice at church (I haven’t been recently, but plan to begin attending regularly if I can manage to slightly shift my daughter’s nap time). Being vulnerable there means being more open to community. I’ve never been good at meeting new people, networking or even making small talk with people I don’t know well. Partially, this is because I’m an introvert. But it’s also because I’m a very cautious person who sucks at breaking out of his comfort zone.
But a church is supposed to be a community. And it always had been for me, even if I’ve seemed closed off. I’ve met good friends through my church. I’ve gained a sort of surrogate grandmother. And it’s the only place I’ve been able to have a completely open conversation about how absolutely horrible the first few months of D’s life were for everyone in our house.
It’s a community that filled a card with wonderful messages when D was born, despite the fact that it would be an understatement to say that Sara and I had been very infrequent attendees for a couple of years by that point. We were not forgotten and were still considered valued members of the church community. I was truly touched the day we walked into church with our baby, for what was probably the first time in over a year, and were handed a card that had been signed by a large portion of the congregation.
I suppose what I’m getting at, with this rambling bit of prose about church-as-community, is that I want to allow myself to tell people what they mean to me. This means being open and vulnerable about my feelings. It means risking the discovery that I value a particular relationship more than the other person. But with that risk comes the possibility of great reward – deeper friendships, more intimate connections with people I’ve come to think of as family (even though I’ve never told them) and a stronger connection to my spiritual community (something I’ve long ago learned I need in my life, even if I’m terrible at developing and nurturing it).
And, finally, one more act of vulnerability. Instead of saving this post and thinking on it for a day or two, as I’d typically do with a post of this length and degree of personal exposure, I’m going to post it in a fairly raw form. This is it. Here it is.