In observation of Lent a number of my friends have opted to abstain from certain pleasures and/or vices for the next 40 days (excluding Sundays - those observing Sundays are doing so for 46 days.) Some in preparation for the Easter season and others for the simple purpose of practicing self control. In the past I've "given up" soda, juice, fast food, junk food, meat and swearing among other things, but I struggle with the reality that, for me, the Lenten sacrifices of my past have done little to...well...bear fruit. These 40 days (for a Catholic) are supposed to remind us of the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert fasting and resisting temptation (which brings to mind one of my favorite Adult Swim shows ever.. which isn't anywhere in the ballpark of Biblically accurate... some might even say it's blasphemous...but... still... hilarious http://video.adultswim.com/lucy-the-daughter-of-the-devil/temptasia.html) and as a result remind us of our blessings and of our strength in God.
If I'm being entirely honest with myself, more often than not, my Lenten sacrifices have reminded me that I've gained 30 pounds since I was 18 and need to go to the gym, more so than of Jesus chillin in the desert* getting good with his destiny. And by the end of the 40 days anyway, I typically gorge myself on everything I deprived myself of in one delicious sitting known as Easter brunch (and of course for the following weeks as part of uh, the Easter Season?) Any daily "meditation" on my sacrifice revolved less around the spiritual ties to the sacrifice and more on the ways I could work around my sacrifice (ie. "I gave up chocolate candy... I didn't say I gave up chocolate cake...come to my belly cake!") or how they would benefit other superficial aspects of my life (ie. "I'm giving up fast food for Lent." Thinking, "hopefully that'll help me drop a size.") I felt like I was missing the point of Lenten observation. I know I should give up those silly little vices year round simply because that's what's good for me and not because it will make me a more complete person.
So this year, in keeping with the standard Catholic practice, I'm fasting and abstaining from meat on Fridays, but in an attempt to refocus my energies during the season of Lent, I'm tiptoeing out of my comfort zone (a zone that I'm still grappling with as I write this blog) and have organized a weekly Lenten-movie night. The goal is to get together with friends each Friday to enjoy a meat-free meal and watch a critically acclaimed feature film or documentary that speaks to our spiritual side and discuss. Some of the films would have explicitly Catholic themes and others would use allegory to relate to Catholic beliefs and general social justice teachings.
Yeah. Discuss religion? With friends? Who are not necessarily Catholic? Who are not necessarily even theists? This is my definition of awkward - don't know why - but it is. The occasional blog is one thing, but discussion in person and unsolicited outside of Church functions goes against almost everything it means to be a cradle-Catholic. I mean we might accidentally start talking about serious ISSUES here. We might disagree! This could be a Pandora's box and the friend I've known for 14 years might suddenly decide I'm a total idiot. OH THE ANXIETY!
Luckily I have good friends... who humor me. And I know that when we do disagree, it will only make the discussion and the development that much richer... because they are nice and smart.
BTW....The invitation is open to anyone who is interested - message me or e-mail me and I'll give you the weekly details and weblink to the movie list so you can see what we're watching. It's a no-commitment invitation as I'd be doing this by myself if no one else ever showed up.
In any case, last Friday was the first of our screenings as we watched the documentary film, "Mother Teresa" I wasn't sure what to expect, as I had never seen it, but Siskel and Ebert gave it 2 thumbs up, so I was hoping it would be good.
I didn't know much about the incredible work of Mother Teresa, but the film has had me reflecting ever since on the things she said, the way she worked and the life she's led. Without a political swing, with no ulterior motives and with only the aid of "Divine Providence," she moved across the globe doing whatever she could do as a person to bring joy and love to those most forgotten among us, one person at a time. Her ideas so simple and honest. So seemingly easy for us to apply in our lives that it's almost embarrassing that I hadn't focused on it before. For example - one of the more personally thought provoking things she spoke of in the film:
"There is a terrible hunger for love. We all experience that in our lives - the pain, the loneliness. We must have the courage to recognize it. The poor you may have right in your own family. Find them. Love them."
It was exactly the type of film I had hoped it would be - and it sparked a chain of thoughts and reflection that I hadn't experienced in previous Lenten endeavors. After the film, we initially all just talked about how amazing her life was and how simple and direct the way she worked was - no fundraisers, no advertising, no discrimination - just person to person love and acceptance. The thought process continued even after we left that night and I haven't been able to stop thinking about it since. I'm not sure if it did the same for everyone else that watched, but I hope it did. Mike and I have been talking about it and coming back to it as a point of discussion a number of times over the past few days... much more thought happening than when I gave up soda.
If you've got any good movies that sparked that spiritual side of you - let me know. I'm looking for more! I'm trying to stay away from movies that are cheeseball watered down stuff that we may have had to watch in High School religion classes and really want to watch well made films so I have mostly put together the viewing list by cross checking high customer ratings on Amazon with Roger Ebert's reviews and picking only his 3 star or higher reviewed films when available. So far, so good.