I used to live in Hamtramck, arguably the Paczki Capitol of the World.
For the uninitiated, paczki (pronounced "poonch-key") are much like jelly donuts, but with extra added fat and calories. Folks eat them on the day before Ash Wednesday, stuffing them greedily into their soon-to-be fasting mouths.
When I lived in good ole Hamtown, I would wake up on Shrove Tuesday to the smell of those delicacies wafting through the air. The streets would be crowded with suburbanites who drove through Detroit and to this charming ethnic hamlet to load up on the plumb pastries. We even hosted a Paczki Parade, which featured the mayor of the city and some lucky guy dressed in a paczki suit. Good times.
It's a good thing I don't really care for jelly donuts or their chubby Polish cousins. If I did I might be joining the binge today, but instead I'm pondering our human tendency to load up on things that are just not that good for us.
I'm guilty as ever when it comes to this behavior. I may not be jonesing for donuts, but I'm saddled with more than my share of addictions. Lent begins tomorrow, and like many Catholics I'm considering today that age-old question: What shall I give up?
Now let me assert that well-intentioned spiritual folks would agree that the idea is to give up something good. Offering to stop freebasing cocaine or abusing puppies is not exactly in the spirit of the season. The idea is to refrain from the enjoyment of something wholesome and good that God has given us, with the idea that by sacrificing that allowed created thing we might grow closer to the Creator.
But of course we need to let go of the yucky stuff, too.
Today I'm digging deep, examining my conscience, seeing what stuff, both yucky and good, that I can let go of this Lent. It might be easier to give up jelly donuts, but I know this is what I'm called to do.
I'm not very good at any of it. Not good at the self-analysis; even worse at the letting go. There is so much to be attached to, so much to distract me from my pain, my challenges, my self, and ultimately My Lord.
I'm good at using the things of the world to numb my pain, to relieve my boredom, to stroke my ego. The whole world sits at my fingertips, eager to suckle me with the milk of self-indulgence. And so often I seek comfort there, instead of at the feet of Jesus, where my inner heart desires so much to be.
So this Lent, what shall I give up? I feel like Emily in Our Town, lamenting all the things in life she will miss, things she has taken for granted. I could give up hot coffee, hot showers, or hot dogs with everything. I could ignore all my favorites: dark chocolate, red wine, books by Dean Koontz, songs by the Killers, theaters and plays and movies. I could give up blogging and facebook and tilting my face towards the sky on sunny days.
Somehow, rather than making me feel closer to Jesus, the thought of all that "giving up" makes me feel like Emily in Our Town, lamenting all the things in life she will miss, things she has taken for granted. Does Lent mean I must "say Good-bye to clocks ticking. . ..and Mama's sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new ironed dresses and hot baths. . .and sleeping and waking up?"
Yet I feel a tug on my heart to let go of all of the yucky, and even some of the good, so that I may be open to a deeper relationship. I am, sadly, attached to more than my share. My heart can't be bound to so much of the world, no matter how good most of it is. I have to release some things so that I may grasp others with my freed up fingers.
I'm hoping, too, that by giving up some of the beautiful distractions of the world, I will grow to appreciate their wonder even more. Isn't that a worthy Lenten goal as well? So now I'm praying for the grace to let go, to hold on, to move ahead, to trust.
Like Thornton's Emily I'm in awe of the glory of the world. As she says, "Oh, earth,you are too wonderful for anybody to realize you. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it--every,every minute?"
That's OK. But done right this Lent will help me see more clearly the glory of God.
So if you feel like it, have a paczki or two today. Enjoy the good things God has given you. Then spend some time thinking about what else He might have in store for you this season.
Have a blessed Lent.