Just as Lent was about to begin, a friend put me on to a little app called WeCroak. The app’s purpose is to put into practice a piece of Bhutanese folk wisdom that says to live a happy life one must contemplate mortality five times a day. So, five times, at random, a message pops up on my phone; “Reminder: Don’t forget you’re going to die.” You tap open the app and you see a quotation that is to remind you of your mortality. Five times, at random, each day.
I’ll admit that for me it started out as a bit of a lark. I annoyed my co-workers when the reminder would pop up: “Reminder: Don’t forget you’re going to die.” As the month has passed, I’ve actually come to enjoy – if “enjoy” doesn’t sound too weird – the messages. I like the randomness, as the messages have popped up at crazy times in my day. The quotes that show up can be a bit of a mixed bag. Some have been goofy, a few just too nihilistic for my taste and a few others I don’t think I understand. Two, in particular have stood out. One was from Joan Halifax, “Woody Allen has famously typified the attitude most of us find amusing and normal: ‘It’s not that I’m afraid to die, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.’ Funny, yes; but the tragic distortion is that when you avoid death, you also avoid life.” The other was from RuPaul [I, perhaps like you, never really thought of RuPaul as a profound philosopher of life…], “We’re all born naked and the rest is drag.” Hmm. That is, in fact, pretty deep.
I understand that this is probably not for everyone. Yet, I will say that it seems that a lot of people are shocked when confronted with their mortality and this surprise, by my observation, has a very debilitating effect on our living. Our denial of our mortality seems to have a profound power over us. Lent begins with the words, “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” Yes, this is to help us understand our true nature. But it also restores the power of the Resurrection. Much of the fear and terror of death is drained when it no longer has control over us. Resurrection is for people who have died. Resurrection is God’s sign and promise that our mortality, our death, does not have the last word. For me, being reminded five times a day that I will die also unleashes, five times a day, a reminder of the power of the Resurrection and a reminder that it is not too late to reorder my life in its light.
Monday this week [February 26] the lead story in the Wall Street Journal’s Life & Arts section was “Is that Lenten Diet for God or for You?” The gist, if you may, of the article is a question I ask myself a lot. “Am I doing this for God or for me?” Is it really a Lent thing if my goal, really, is to loose 10 pounds?
I think we do this a lot. We have more than one reason for a lot of the things we do, don’t we? [You can answer honestly, I can’t hear you…] We do a lot of things that, on the surface, look like what we would call “good deeds.” Yet, under the surface we’re getting a kick-back for ourselves. In more “sinister” situations we might call this sort of thing “ulterior motives.” Now, don’t get all testy, we’ve all done it. Me too. In fact, we’ve all done it enough that most of us think just about everyone is really up to something we can’t see, at least on the surface. Cynically, we can start to think all things that look like good deeds have something of an ulterior motive.
When it comes to Lenten “disciplines,” this gets really tricky, as the article in the WSJ notes. The purpose of a Lenten discipline is to help you get closer to God, to lead to a deeper relationship with God. [Funny aside: I have a friend who gave up God for Lent. Yep. Gave up God. He spent Lent studying the objections to God by famous atheists. He came out of Lent with a more vigorous and articulate faith in God.] Here’s the crazy thing; our Lenten disciplines, the ones that really bring us closer to God, end up being things that make us better. They help us feel better, see the world more clearly, bring us peace. Crazy, huh? A really good Lenten discipline does make you a better you.
But in all of the complexities of the things relating to our relationship with God we need to either be prepared to 1. Start with God. Or 2. If you don’t start with God, be prepared to be reshaped in some significant way.
We’re about half-way through Lent. I hope things are going well with you. Whatever you’re doing this Lenten season is bringing you closer to God and reshaping you in unexpected ways.