Friday, March 11, 2011

Purely musical

Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras, Carnival - all the eating, drinking, and partying came to a head on Tuesday night, in a big blowout before Ash Wednesday and Lent. Even if you're not Christian, there's something appealing around rolling around in your own appetites and urges for awhile, assured that a hard stop followed by a finite period of asceticism will wipe your transgressions clean and help you fit back into your pants. What's wrong with eating that whole box of Do-Si-Dos that the Girl Scouts dropped off, when three days later I'll only be eating kale?

As I am a great maker of resolutions and clean-wiper of slates, I look forward to Lent. As a kid, the quest to figure out what exactly I would do without for 40 days took up a lot of time in the weeks approaching Ash Wednesday. Would it be easier to give up chocolate or ice cream, or would my parents fall for it if I gave up cleaning my room? (Answer: no, and to my children: don't bother.)

My next door neighbor and best friend was a parochial school student and we spent afternoons lying on the yellow rug in my bedroom comparing religious requirements related to Lent so that we could cherry-pick the least onerous. Mary Beth had to eat fish on Fridays, but assured me that Catholicism let you off the hook on Sundays from whatever it was you'd given up, so you could fill up on chocolate or ice cream or cookies.  (And it is true that if you count Sundays between now and Easter, there are 46 days. Ain't nothing in the Bible about Jesus in the wilderness for 46 days. It specifically says 40.) Our Episcopal church was ok with the Friday meat, but we ate soup on Wednesdays and collected pennies for the poor. 

One year when I was about ten, our groovy hippie youth minister reminded us that you don't just have to give something up for Lent, probably because he realized that abstaining from Pop Tarts for six weeks didn't really bring his youthful charges closer to meaningful spirituality.  "Better you should take something on," he said. "Start to do something you've been meaning to do."

Ever since, that's my battle cry at Lent - taking on habits like "If it occurs to you to donate money to a charity, do it before you can change your mind," or "spend five minutes meditating before you start work every day." The discipline of taking on something new for 40 days has helped me to clear away the excuses and distractions, and creates new, intentional habits. This year my Lenten resolution is to take on a "device-free" period for a few hours every day - no smartphones, iPads, and laptops- so I can be more in the moment with my family. It's going to get very 2004 all up in here.

Speaking of simplifying, a few weeks ago we had the chance to see Nora Jane Struthers play a house concert at the lovely home of our friends Jonathan and Tiffany, and as funny, fresh, and musically talented as she is, what struck me most was the purity of Nora Jane's voice. No amplification, no fancy Xtina vocal embellishments, no dance moves. Just strong, clear, honest singing, like here in "Greenbriar County."

Sometimes all you really want is to focus on the basics, and save the Pop Tarts for another time. Here's to a weekend of good intentions, friends -


  1. Three of my three kids attend a Catholic school here in Brooklyn-- although we are not Catholic. For the school's potluck fundraiser tonight, I was going to bring Kailua pork. Oops. Forgot about the Friday no meat rule. How mean would that have been? Eating a vat of pig in front of those sweet ladies?

    I like your idea of doing something new for 40 days, so I will join you in decreasing my computer time for more family time.

    And speaking of familia, Jonathan and Tiffany are part of my family of creation. I think Miss Nora Jane could be a sister of Tiffany's. Don't you? Can't wait to play with all of you once we move to Berkeley this summer.

  2. Oh, you mean like the time at my high school reunion when I asked my classmate who had become an orthodox rabbi whether he'd tried the bacon wrapped scallops from the buffet line? Like that?

    Hope the move goes smoothly and yes, we will see you on the left coast this summer!

  3. Bravo - we used to eat McDonald's filet o' fish every Friday during Lent as our "treat." Now I'm married to a Jew and baking a challah ... it all comes full circle.

  4. ...or the time my then-boyfriend asked for a glass of milk with his prime rib at the wedding (kosher) of a work colleague. Didn't like that job much anyway! I agree with you on Nora Jane's voice...sometimes simple and pure is sooooo much better.

  5. I gave up using bad language this year. My kids actually came up with the about that one? I have this little voice inside that actually believes that Richard Pryor might be my biological father because he is the only other person I have known of to curse more than I do. It's going to be a long 40 days!

    On a side note, her voice is beautiful! This song makes me think of my grandfather, who was a coal miner in West Virginia...but not in Greenbriar County. He had a hard, hard life and the softest smile.

  6. I like the idea of using Lent to start a good habit, not that I'm religious.

    Stopping by from SITS.


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