· Ash Wednesday, despite being one of the most attended holy days of the year by Catholics around the world, is not an official Holy Day of Obligation. The ashes used to mark the cross on a person’s forehead are traditionally made by burning last year’s Palm Sunday palms.
The Journey of Lent
I've been looking over all the wonderful resources online for Lenten retreats. Some of them are truly fabulous! I know I can't compete with them, but what I do want to share these next 40 days is my own Lenten journey. I Had originally planned to focus on griefwalking, then I thought about healing, but last night, as I reflected on Pope Benedict's resignation, I decided I would simply talk about my own way, in the hopes that maybe it would resonate with someone else.
Anxiety and Grief
What has dominated my life for the past year or more has been at times almost crippling panic and anxiety. It started about the time that I knew my mother was dying. Since it was a long process for her--including nearly nine months on hospice--I was on edge for a long time as well. I never went to sleep without thinking that perhaps tonight would be the night I would get the call. Then when the call did come, I was plunged into the darkest sea of fear and anxiety I had ever experienced. A fear that has had its storms as well as a few moments of relative calm, but a treacherous and troubling sea nonetheless.
At times I thought I was losing my grip on reality, my sanity. Although I faced several difficult issues, including a major theft (which is still winding its way through the courts), financial, health, and relationship issues, I wasn't being pursued by tigers, even though the flight or fight mechanism was stuck in the on position. Then, last night, I was directed to an article written by a grief counselor that said anxiety should be one of the stages of grief. She wrote:
In fact, anxiety is the most common symptom of grief that I see in my practice. But I also know that it’s often one of the most overlooked aspects of bereavement...I must have read that statement a half-dozen times before it sank it. My almost paralyzing anxiety was normal! Just knowing that didn't eradicate the anxiety--even as I type this morning, my hands are shaking and my pulse is racing--and I didn't even have any caffeine!
Into the Desert
What does this have to do with Lent? This year, I'm not giving up anything per se. At least not i the traditional sense. What I am going to do is look at the relationship between anxiety, grief, healing, and faith. So to begin, I offer you this prayer from St. Francis de Sales, the patron saint of Catholic writers:
Do not look forward to the changes and chances of this life with fear. Rather, look to them with full confidence that, as they arise, God to whom you belong will in his love enable you to profit by them. He has guided you thus far in life. Do you but hold fast to His dear hand, and He will lead you safely through all trials. Whenever you cannot stand, He will carry you lovingly in his arms.
Do not look forward to what may happen tomorrow. The same Eternal Father who takes care of you today will take care of you tomorrow, and every day of your life. Either He will shield you from suffering or He will give you unfailing strength to bear it.
Be at peace then, and put aside all useless thoughts, all vain dreads and all anxious imaginations.