Sunday, March 6, 2016


Lenten Rose (Helebores) in bloom in my Portland neighborhood–Right on time

During Lent, season of discipline,
I drag myself early out of bed, ride
to Mass with Mom and Mrs. Crivello,
warm in the front seat between their
woolen coats, soothed by familiar perfume.

Headlights carve the ebony darkness.
The women talk in low tones
about people I don’t know, the thrum
of their voices reassuring. I doze
for seconds that seem like minutes.

In the half-acre lot, we park among
a small band of cars huddled near
the entrance of St. Monica’s. Inside,
stained glass windows, a feast of color
in daylight, are black. The church is barn-cold.

Candles burn, bells ring, prayers are murmured,
songs sung. The church warms slowly. I sit,
stand, kneel between the two women,
rituals washing over me like soft waves
on Lake Michigan in August.

Later, I carry the sacred mood
out on my route, dispensing papers
like Communion to my neighbors.

-Lawrence Kessenich

Dearest Readers,

When I was a kid, Lent was a time of daily Mass, denial and hope for Easter.  Like the poet Lawrence Kessenich above, I too hold deep memories of attending pre-dawn services on weekdays with my Mom or Dad. The weather was still cold in Jersey City. Nature was waiting to explode. 

These days I’ve discovered St. Andrew’s Catholic Church in my Portland neighborhood. I wrote about my search for spiritual paths in a recent blog entitled Pilgrim's Progress, as one of several necessary ingredients in getting grounded here.

St. Andrew's with a focus on Hispanic outreach, and social justice

I’m surprised at what I’m discovering in this church. Has the whole organization shifted so dramatically from stressing sin as it did when I was a child, to a worldview that emphasizes social justice, mercy and our kinship with all peoples? It's a good thing. 

My small way to help in my community is to quietly pick up trash on my morning dog walks with Etta. I carry two plastic produce bags from the supermarket–one for 'dog do' of course, and one for the refuse that appears out of nowhere each day in the neighborhood.  Seven of the eight blocks on my walk route are already looking better, and so easy to do little-by-little.

I also use the Lenten Rice Bowl iPhone app to daily ponder ways to be kinder, to pledge small amounts of alms to combat global hunger, and to offer it in a portable cardboard “bowl” on Easter Sunday.

Lent, like springtime is the season for renewal, whether you are spiritually-minded or not. Buddhists say the lotus grows from the mud at the bottom of the pond–the grit of life. Many Christians, and Catholics in my personal experience, use these six and a half weeks to consume less, do good deeds and practice charity as strategies for personal growth and the greater community good.

I feel like I’m connecting with the world as I dive deeper for the muddy root.

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