Thursday, April 21, 2011

Dying to Self

Life has been busy at my house this Lent. An entire week was devoted to making the wedding cake of a friend whose reception was to have 250 people. Now that's one very big cake. Actually, it was a bunch of cakes - over 15 cake mixes total and over 50 cups of frosting. The final result was very pretty, but I'm not sure I'll ever do this again for someone else. Having said that, it was certainly an experience I'll never forget. I think I prayed with every egg and cup of sugar for this young couple. That should get them through the first 50 years of marriage, don't you think?

Congratulations, Audrey and Andrew!

I have to admit that having their wedding during Lent was a challenge for me. I found it so difficult to resist tasting as I went along. ;-) And I wasn't always successful. Lent has been extra hard for me this year for some reason. My first resolution was to cut out between meal snacks. I really need to go on a diet and I thought that this would be a good first step in self-denial. I recently found out that in addition to RA, I have osteoarthritis, and my weight is a factor that makes me a high risk for other problems. What I struggle with regarding weight loss is that I have lost weight in the past only to gain it all back and then some. I am terrified of trying again only to reach a weight greater than when I started. It is sort of a lose/gain situation. Excuse the pun.
Cat on a bathroom scale

Then I tacked onto my Lenten observance by denying my extracurricular shopping which was really hard since I really enjoy shopping. I have to admit that it is somewhat of an addiction. I always seem to find some excuse to go shopping. Someone needs a gift. I need something new to wear for a particular event. You know! Any excuse will do. I can walk into a store without any specific purchase in mind and easily come out with several purchases for this very reason. Pleasure shopping is a stress reliever for me and yet, when the bills come in, there is always more stress. Now that's a lose/lose situation.
I had a conversation with my husband tonight. He was complaining about having a bad Lent - that he was making excuses to give in to this resolutions. I approached it from a different perspective. If you are caving this Lent, perhaps that's reason to call it a good Lent. It is an opportunity to know that WE are not the ones accomplishing our goals. It is only by God's Grace that we are able to live up to the goals we set for ourselves.

It got us into an entirely new conversation about the Church and her rules for the Fridays of Lent. An inventor of rules himself, I thought it interesting that he thought the rules set up by the Church are oppressive. Then I tried to explain the purpose behind the rules. Observances that ask us to deny ourselves something are intended to sort of hollow us out. The more we are hollowed out, the more we can fill up with the things of God - even God Himself! Primarily, during Lent, these are three traditional observances of prayer, fasting, and alms giving. They carve us out so that we can be filled with virtue - so that God can make us more holy through them. 

I know it's the wrong time of year, but the pumpkin story about what it is like to be a Christian sums it up beautifully. We are do die to self as God breathes His Life into us. 


It is like being a pumpkin.
God picks you from the patch,
brings you in, and washes all the dirt off of you.
Then he cuts off the top and scoops out all the yucky stuff.
He removes the seeds of doubt, hate, greed, etc.,
and then He carves you a new smiling face
and puts His light inside of you to shine for all the world to see.

Suffering does the same thing, if we let it. It enlarges our heart for God. Like the mythological bird, the phoenix, we are called to die to self by trusting God in all things. The resurrection is not far away. This reminds me of a poem I wrote over 15 years ago about the phoenix. I was going through a particularly difficult time in my life and realized that I was not in control. By holding on, I was only delaying my personal spiritual growth. I had to "Let go and let God" as they say. The primary image in my poem was the phoenix, the mythical bird that lives for 500 years only do die by fire and rise from its own ashes to live for another 500 years. Although you might think this is an image of re-incarnation, the phoenix is actually a symbol of the Resurrection. I think it is also a good symbol of trust and dying to self. My poem follows.

Canticle of the Phoenix 

Again, the time has come for me to seek the peace
Of symbol that to me will speak,
And meditate upon the lasting trust
Of Bible's Abraham, in faith found just.
 But his is faith I have not come to own;
His sacrifice is his - to me unknown.
At first I find a giant Banyan tree
With many roots and shiny leaves of green,
But bent beneath the weight of it, I think,
"This tree is not the symbol that I seek."
And soon I find an anchor on the shelf,
But cold and lifeless, it is like my self.
 My eyes then catch a sacrificial fire.
The phoenix, high upon its fun'ral pyre
'Mid waves of heat that rise and leave my sight -
Ethereal, sparkling, peacock-colored light –
 Spreads wide its lovely wings as if to fly.
Its head, thrown back in death-song's glorious cry,
In voice proclaims that death is worth it all
To sing with sweet surrender to the call.
 And deep within the joyous strains of death
Is trust triumphant in the final breath.
The cost of faith to me is now revealed;
How I must sing this death-song to be healed.
 And He who sacrificed His Life
For me is waiting - for my gift to selfless be.
But fear of dying stirs in me a dread,
And disappointment bows my humbled head.
 This final hymn is one I do not know.
Its music sings of faith and letting go.
I follow Him to find the missing key
That plays the phoenix song to set me free.
 I fin'lly understand: to sing such strains
Requires a heart that seeks Him in our pain.
The song of death – the song of trust - are one;
We cannot sing unless we hear the Son.
Yet, when it stops the death-song - still - is heard.
Like incense lifting praise unto the Lord.
Yes! When in death's abandon do we sing,
Then we shall fly on trust's triumphant wing.

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