Editing: a Lenten Practice

It reveals me to myself.“ I wrote this line in my last blog as I described this liturgical planner with which I’ve entered a complicated relationship.

I also wrote “It’s only January. I haven’t even made it to Lent yet.”

Well, Lent has arrived.in-640516_960_720Wednesday I went to a noon service and received the imposition of the ashes on my forehead. “From dust you came and to dust you shall return,” the priest said to me. Over and over I heard that phrase spoken to every kneeling soul at the altar. It echoed in the sanctuary of wood and stone and now it echoes in my mind and heart.   You are finite, it says. You are one of many; only human, who you are and what you can do and how long you will last are all limited.

That voice seems to be in chorus with the planner. As I struggle with using it, seeing it merge my digital calendar and reflective journal, facing its forcing me out of my denial about who I write in my journal that I want to be and what I actually do every day, I feel the truth bearing down upon me.

I didn’t mean to start this liturgical theme in my blog, but advent brought an anxious waiting, Christmas retold a story, and epiphany began a journey toward something to behold.

It seems a Mystery beyond me is being lived in my story. A wheel-shaped diagram on the inside cover of the book represents the liturgical year of the church. My own story seems to be a wheel within the wheel.

I set myself up last week when I wrote this line…

An epiphany is a moment of pause, a moment of revelation. But the still point of revelation is brief, for we are changed by it and it demands we respond in some way. 

 This made for a nice ending, only I wasn’t thinking particularly about the ‘some way’ in which I would respond. Then came Lent.

Some of theme words on the opening page describing Lent in the Sacred Ordinary Days Planner are self-examine, discipline, prepare, empty, fast, quiet, contemplation, and reflection.

It’s a fitting beginning for Lent: Response. I read yesterday that to ask oneself, “What do I give up for Lent? “ is to shortchange oneself. The better question is what practice will I add to my life, in place of the something I might need to let go, in order to better become who I was created to be.

Oddly, the word ‘edit’ comes to mind. Is that a spiritual practice? It certainly speaks to getting rid of things. The final stage in the writing process, I tell my students, is to re-read your work, to cut out all superfluous words. Where many words are, sin abounds, the Proverbs say. While I know this is true of those of us who talk too much and too often, I’m not sure it applies to essays of AP Lang students, though after reading five or six wordy ones in a row, I’m inclined to think loquaciousness deserves punishment and needs absolution.

Say it as tightly as you can – economy of word – I tell them. The fewer words, the more important the choice of each becomes and the more power each one holds. Editing is both eliminating words and choosing better ones; sometimes it’s putting the words in a different order.

I think about the pages of my life, represented by my journal, my planner and my calendar. Are ‘choice, fewer, and powerful’ the descriptions of the life recorded there? Is the order of things what it should be?  I’m not sure. I fear it lacks power because there are not enough pauses, silences, blank spaces, and careful choices.   Yes, editing is a spiritual practice. A Lenten practice of giving up and replacing, editing the filled spaces and times on that calendar to gain the fewer, deliberative and powerful moments that are born in space and silence.

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My Planner: A Love/Hate Relationship

I have a new planner.  A friend of mine found these online and knowing that I was reading Living the Christian Year and trying to live into the liturgical calendar this year,  she thought I might like to try one. I haven’t decided whether to thank her or ‘unfriend’ her.

The first day I loved it! The child whose father owned an office supply store, I had unlimited access to Blue Horse Tablets, #2 Wallace pencils, college-ruled composition notebooks,  and yellow legal pads. I loved fresh paper and new pens.  The teacher, too, loves a clean page on which to write and plan.  Maybe that type of child  becomes a teacher.  I was eager and enthusiastic when I first opened the book.

For the last few years I have used strictly a digital calendar, which I love for many reasons; not the least of which is entering the dentist’s appointment on my phone’s calendar right there in the office. Seconds later that appointment is also on my computer’s calendar. Gone is the small reminder card which once got lost in the black hole of my purse for weeks.  I miss, however, not being able to reflect on the calendar and make notes to myself about what did and did not work.   After I had completely exhausted myself over Christmas one year in the days of a paper calendar, a friend suggested I put a sticky note on next year’s December which read: ELIMINATE ONE THING!  I did. It worked.  I haven’t mailed out a Christmas card since that sticky note got put on December.  I use “old school paper” for my teacher plan book and I write in pencil so I can change easily – which I do often.  I go back and write reflections in colored ink about what works and what doesn’t, what needs more time, or less time.

I thought this new planner would be like that, a place to reflect on my pace of life and note adjustments I needed to make, and a reminder to fuse the practical tasks into the liturgical season. The planner starts the year with a space for writing one’s own rule of life, then each day provides readings from the daily office along with  a list of three projects one would like to accomplish. Underneath the project list is a daily schedule space and a small white space for other notes or thoughts related to the readings or anything else.

This was my first frustration. No way was the book adequate to serve as my journal.  I’m voluble, loquacious, verbose.  For years I’ve kept a black Moleskin journal,  the receptacle of thoughts, prayers, feelings that come tumbling out of my mind. I reflect and ponder and try to make meaning of what is happening in my daily life.  There the words excited, exhausted, afraid, overwhelmed, overjoyed show up.  In those pages is the record of what I felt, perceived, or learned from what happened in my life. Or maybe just a record of what I coped with or survived.

My second pushback was that I’m still going to use my digital calendar – too convenient to give up.

Thirdly, I was trying to fill in those three project boxes every day and complete them in spite of how much might be listed on the daily schedule – transferred from my digital calendar, mind you. I found myself becoming driven by the tyranny of my own list, obsessing over the boxes. I wanted to check those boxes.  The old taskmaster that drives me to accomplishment was rearing his head again.

I was about to give up on the whole thing, thinking it was only a complicated fusion of the calendar and the journal, duplicating what I already have and not serving its own purpose, but  I couldn’t quite let it go.  Hate gave way to love again.

The liturgical day planner is just that, a complicated fusion which represents me. It reveals me to myself.   A calendar alone lets me feel accomplished and productive; a journal tells another truth – driven, sometimes exhausted, afraid, and pensive.  In either book alone, I can deny the other side.

No wonder I love and hate this new book: it forces me to admit that my ‘to do’ list are too long and that I am the author of the list.  Nobody but me is making that unrealistic list.  When I get to the weekend it asks me to reflect on the previous week in terms of mind, body, spirit, home, relationships and work and reset for the next week.  I’m forced every seven days to look back at how my intention (who I say I want to be) matched with how I scheduled my time and energy.   My Moleskin journal and my digital calendar don’t talk to me this way. They don’t ask me to evaluate my schedule or force me to look back at previous pages.  I can continue my dualism in those two separate books.

It’s only January. I haven’t even made it to Lent yet.  I make no promises about my relationship with the liturgical planner for all of 2016.  We are ‘still just dating’ so to speak. A wise friend once told me, “When you feel yourself resisting, lean in. It’s usually what you need.”  I definitely met resistance within myself.   For now, I’m choosing love and leaning into the planner.