Sunday, February 26, 2012

Day 5
Today I was looking at the barren cross at church and I wondered which symbol today, in 2012 is more powerful: The Cross or the Nike Swish? The Swish has a a lot going for it. Take a pair of soft shoes, call them running shoes, colour them exotically, add the Swish and people will line up all night and riot for them. I laugh at that, I cluck condescendingly, but I will pay triple the price for a T shirt for the addition of the Swish. Of course there is a bit of a dark side to the Swish: Making shoes and garments is a low paying job and we in the West have for the most part farmed that out to the poorest of the poor in the East. So do I worship the Swish? I would say no, but my actions perhaps speak for themselves.

The Cross has a rougher go. I have never lined up for the Cross. I do not venerate it. I can criticize the Cross for past abuses, scandals, and mistakes. Wars and murders have been committed under the banner of the Cross. But the main thing I do is take the Cross for granted. I think that the Cross will always be there. I think that I can look at the Cross anytime I want. But I know that is not in a good chunk of the world this is not the case.

I guess my ideal Cross is my private cross. No one can see it except for me. It is big enough to have be an instrument of torture and death. I can see nail holes but I don't know if it is real or an illusion. It bugs me, it confuses me, it frustrates me that there are no answers.

So the Swish or the Cross? The Swish is easy and fun, the Cross is neither. So do I take the easy road, the soft and gentle way? I think not ... it is Lent after all and that is enough of a thing to learn on the fifth day.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Day 4
Today, was the best day for my back and that let me do 6 k on the treadmill,so right way it was a wonderful day. I baked some really good bread with dried cherries and hazelnuts that made a great dinner (a good bread makes a wonderful meal - all we had with it was a small piece of cheese)
We went a saw a silent movie from Germany made in 1920 "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" that had live music with it from a group called the Hilotons.
I met some friends and we had a very interesting discussion on spirituality. it was good to be inside today as there was a bitter wind that acted as a sharp lens to the somewhat chilly minus 12 temperature.
I guess that today's lesson is that health, pain free health, is a great gift. The ability to make one's own bread is a gift. And it was a gift to have been able to feel a film that people made who had just endured the First World War and could not imagine the horrors that were less than two decades away. I really think there is a very big lesson there as well
But sleep beckons so the contemplation may have to wait.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Day 3

Well today I did the letter of my Lenten Retreat but not sure if I nailed the spirit. My wife and had freshly made guacamole on whole wheat pita for breakfast. We concocted a rice pilaf our of organic red and brown rice, vegetable broth, grape seed oil , onion, garlic, corn , feta cheese, and Parmigiano-Reggiano for dinner. Since I just had a granola bar for lunch I really chomped down on the latter, which was quite good. We had a bunch of frozen melon in the freezer and we blended that with some leftover fruit juices into a really terrific smoothie. So no meat, nothing from a restaurant , so I did the Lent Rules. I gave up nothing at all but I figure that we would have gone to dinner out tonight so I am putting $50 in the till for the Royal Ottawa.

I guess that there are a number of thoughts going through my head. Like usual, they are disjointed, somewhat random, and do not really make sense necessarily. But that is why I blog.

So thought 1 – I really had a wonderful day of excess with respect to food. Here I am in the Ottawa Valley in late February, a snowy and windy February’s day and I am eating avocadoes, limes, whole wheat pitas, rice form California, cheese from Canada and cheese from Italy, melons from Mexico , juices from Florida. I am not sure that eating fries and a Big Mac from the Arches would have made a lesser impact on the planet, and that includes the wrapping!

So thought 2 - Of course from a health view point I am way ahead of the Big Mac. I am just oozing vitamins and fibre which is very good.

So thought 3 – I am very blessed and lucky. I had incredible food. I experienced love, freedom and employment today. I was able to laugh. My back is better today and I did not need the muscle relaxant (although I may take a hit before bed, which is a blessing as well). I was able to do a hill climb on the treadmill today.

So what can I take away this third day of Lent? I am blessed. I know I am blessed. I have good things. I know I have good things. I was able to help the Royal Ottawa.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Day 2
Well as I am coming to the end of the second day of Lent I have complaints. I wretched my back today and it was sore so I did not run. I had a full day of meetings in Ottawa so my lunch was late. I stopped in to look at a GPS but it was sold out. I then rushed to another meeting, then got home and took a muscle relaxant, stayed still for half an hour, felt a bit better, made dinner, realized that the dishwasher was still full from last night so I put them on wash with expensive electricity. I then rushed to a local meeting where I got to go to the meeting part but missed the free dinner part that everybody who did go was raving about (but it saved my Lenten theme of course). The meeting went on not too badly but I am now on two subcommittees. I get home and the beagle wants to be fed and walked. My back hurts again but no more muscle relaxant until I go to bed. And the kitchen still needs cleaning , although my wife is back from her meeting and can finish.
WHAT A PERFECTLY WONDERFUL DAY. I had employment, I had food, I had choice, I had muscle relaxant,and of course the love of beagle and wife (NB - alphabetical listing). A very fitting and wonderful second anniversary of my bypass.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ash Wednesday

Well, on this first Day of Lent I had oatmeal for breakfast, I had vegetarian salad bar in a restaurant (business lunch), and a salad for dinner we made at home from spinach, feta, fennel and leftover couscous. And I had a piece of cheese to accompany my nightly shot of drugs and I had some orange juice after I did 5K on the treadmill.
I did border on righteous anger a couple of times mainly directed at the Woman Who Claims to be Our Member of Parliament but I did manage to control them before my Flights of Anger got too far down the runway.
At the grocery store tonight I bought avocados, whole grain pita, some white potatoes, some purple sweet potatoes (it was all they had) and some Gatorade on sale. (the last item is Lent Questionable I know, but if do a sweaty workout it is my hydration drink)
I did not watch TV (except for the news) but that is easy for me. No Angry Birds and the one hour on line time was dodgy.
I went to a Lent Service but chose not to get the smear of ash on my forehead as I consider myself too much of a Lent Poser and not the real thing. Or at least I have a feeling of discomfort in being part of a ritual that I do not fully comprehend, understand or feel like a full participant.
But I did learn a new word: compunction. The homilist seemed imply that this was the nadir of regret and remorse , or to put it more colloquially as sorry as sorry can be. I am a bit muddled as the Catholic Dictionary says:
A momentary sorrow or regret for having done, or contemplated doing, something wrong. It may also be a slight feeling of remorse, without implying either complete repentance or a firm resolve not to do the same wrong thing again. (Etym. Latin compunctio, remorse, the sting of conscience; from compungere, to prick.).

But etymology and definitions aside the word to me gave me focus on empathy and understanding. He spoke also about Alms for the Poor being actually debt repayment to God for forgiving our sins. (all of this is way to hard for me and why I do not feel ready to have ashes on the forehead) but here is the way I took it. I think that sin is essentially letting the self (call it ego if you wish) to rule you and forgiveness of sin lets you focus on the planet: the people, the animals, the water, the air, the forests, even the oil (does it really make sense to pump it out of the ground and burn it as fast as we can?) .

One really good suggestion the homilist made was to pick two days of the week and just have a bowl of rice that day - nothing else, no meat, no butter, no salt, no vegetables, nothing else except for the rice. That would give you an incredible feeling of self but you could work to transcend that into forgiveness. I am not sure if I would have to courage to search for faith for that for any length of time.

So I guess I am going to take the new word “Compunction” as meaning that I am going to work during these 40 days on getting out of self, of parking the ego and letting myself feel the pain of others to the best of my ability and then doing something about it, Which I think is the whole point of what Jesus tried to tell us, but he did not have too many listeners and even less who understood.

This Lent business is going to be tough – I should have maybe just gotten the ashes on the forehead and as the homilist said just “follow the rules”. It would have likely been easier ….

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The season of Lent is upon us and that is becoming one of my favorite times of year. I am unencumbered by formal religious obligations and am in ignorance of the knowledge of learned scholars, so I get to muddle and do what I want. It is an amazing feeling of freedom, choice, and liberation that gives me.
It is my understanding that Lent is based on the 40 days that Jesus spent in the desert, where he supposedly fasted, prayed, and chatted with Satan. It is odd that there is precious little recorded about what happened during that time. I think there is a reason for that. No, I do not think that the 40 days was a smoke screen for Jesus to party with the angels. I think the reason is that Jesus spent those 40 days of solitude to figure stuff out, to mediate, to feel the cold of the night, to feel the scorching heat of the day, to feel out why he was there and what he has to do. If he had the answers he would have been a big dummy to have gone into the desert just for fun, He used those 40 days, it seems wisely to get answers and maybe that is my guide to what to do with Lent, So here is my game plan for Lent:

Dining Out – It is one of life’s pleasures to dine out. It is great to have someone else prepare the meal and clean up afterwards. Yet my wife and I have morphed into Frequent Eater Outters. We go out at the drop of a hat, or set of keys and that is a) a waste of money, b) a waste of our sense of appreciation. During Lent we shall not eat out unless it is a) for reasons of travel or business and simply not being at home or b) a celebration with a guest. I will keep track of the money not spent and at the end of Lent donate it to the Royal Ottawa Hospital

Dining In – We shall eat at our house freely of all food that is in the house. That will give me a sense of practicality and using resources that one has stored, and prevent me from falling into the trap of following the letter and not the spirit.

Shopping for Food
– During this season we shall not purchase any food that is made from an animal, fish or most especially a mollusk. The prohibition will also include any food that is perceived as “snack” or “junk” and include cakes, cookies, ice cream, popcorn, rice cakes, chocolate and so forth. This will help me reflect on two things: 1) the fact that all life is sacred and it is important to think of that once in a while and 2) that we have really turned many of God’s food in poison and we need to think about that as well.

Righteous Anger - I love being angry about the right thing. As I write this the Conservative Government in Ottawa has killed the Long Gun Registry. That is their right and they did get the majority government from the people. I think the Long Gun Registry was a very good thing but that is water over the dam now. But the Conservative Party, on this victory of theirs, chose to have an almost gloating victory party totally unmindful of the many people deeply upset about this, The actions of the MPs that did this, make me angry , in my view that is Righteous Anger. But all anger is bad and I want to make an effort to abandon all of my anger for Lent.

Internet, Television, and Computer
– I have recently succumbed to the game Angry Birds and spend an embarrassing amount of time trying to get to the next level. On one level it is innocent fun, on the other it is a total waste of time.
I can wile away hours on the computer surfing the net and last week I watched an entire television show that ended in a cliffhanger to entice me to watch next week.
During Lent I shall not play any computer games, and limit my online time to an hour a day. I shall watch no television with the exception of the news, This will serve to make me mindful of the gift of time and I want to use this gift to a) read more, b) mediate more, and c) clean up more.

So that is the plan – life will still go on. I am not in the desert and I have the gift and obligation of a day job. But if I can make myself a little better during Lent that is good. Like I said, it is becoming one of my favotite times of year.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Well as I write this the Superbowl Roman Numeral something is on and Madonna may even be singing or performing or doing whatever she has been doing for all these decades. Good for her I say. Even though I cannot say I am a fan it is sort of good that Superbowl Halftimes are usually done by Old Fogies (being an Old Fogie myself)
But I am refusing to get myself sucked into this American Football Drama. For starters, I do not like football. I think it is a brutal, viscous sport that wrecks havoc on knees and bones, causes concussions, and destroys lives. I am probably being dramatic, but that is the way I feel. I have to work hard to be open minded to those that love the sport and accept their view.
I do not watch football during the year so it seems pointless for me to be caught up in it February. I do not live in New Jersey nor Boston (I think I have the cities right) and that makes the attachment level zero. But I think what bugs me most of all is the hype, the marketing, the advertising, the artificial frenzy that is being created like Whipped Edible Oil Filled Trans Fat Twinkies that are coming out of some sort of Frankensteinian Laboratory.
Television ads are a pain to watch but we tolerate them as it gives us "free" TV. Of course free TV is a joke; you need cable or a dish or very fast and cheap highspeed but that is a rant for another day. But on the Breakfast TV that we watch most mornings the advertisements have been played time after time after time. Jerry Seinfeld, you are no longer funny. Barking dogs; saw that 20 years ago with Dogs Singing Jingle Bells. What is the big deal about a television commercial? What can't I figure out?
I am not a soccer fan (I am a pretty poor male role model), but I can see the World Cup of Soccer. Once every four years, the best in the world play, lots of games, this is exciting and a Big Deal. The Superbowl is Sunday Afternoon Football.
I did chance upon a bit of pregame stuff while waiting at Pizza Pizza this afternoon. The commentators were a) shouters and b) largely monosyllabic and c) just plain not very bright. (mind you I am sure they get paid more in a week than I get paid in a year so the issue of relative brightness is open to debate)
I am sitting here, with my wife, The Beagle, and three sleeping cats. I am blogging and reading Half of a Yellow Sun. I just realized - I am the 1 %!! No wonder those guys were so mad last year. They are just jealous of my happiness. I am indeed a lucky man.