By Leora Weitzman
Putting a pebble in your shoe can still be found under Ten Simple Penance Ideas for Lent at CatholicLiving.net. By now, most pebbles have probably gone metaphorical. Still, what if your shoes are already too full of metaphorical pebbles to add any more?
Maybe some pebbles already in our shoes can become our offerings. In my case, pebbles of anxiety and sadness about current events are becoming a focus to sit with more consciously in prayer—which means fasting from at least some efforts to numb those feelings. And as for almsgiving…
Do you interact regularly with someone who pushes your buttons? Once my buttons are pushed (say, with putdowns of my beliefs), I’m in verbal battle posture, and the button-pusher is now an adversary instead of a person. Verbal counterattacks swarm through my mind. If I manage to stifle them, my brain freezes up and won’t show me any better way to speak my truth. Afterward, I addictively continue the conversation in my head and resent all the energy it’s costing me. What if I treated that time and energy, though, as alms to give willingly? Why should it matter if the recipient is not a stranger and doesn’t fit my stereotype of a seeker of alms? Could the button-pushing be a form of begging for attention?
I imagine a fourth desert temptation for Jesus. Displaying a preview of all the people who will try to push Jesus’ buttons with mockery, harassment and criticism, Satan offers a way to humiliate them spectacularly once and for all. Jesus turns down the offer with a scriptural saying – maybe that we owe compassion to people under duress (like biblical widows and orphans). After all, who knows what duress our critics may be under? Judgment belongs to God alone, another saying he could use. Many more sayings to counter this sort of temptation come from Jesus himself: turning the other cheek, taking the beam out of our own eye, checking our track record before casting a stone, leaving our gift at the altar to go be reconciled.
Jesus’ responses to his challengers were miracles of ingenious, nonviolent teaching. How did he resist the lure of battle posture and find the mental space to think of such creative stories and questions?
Maybe he learned to respond to each provocation by remembering, before anything else, that he was beloved of God. He might have practiced this in the desert – calling, every time he was tempted, on the memory of the Holy Spirit’s descent at his baptism.
Would a habit like this truly open up the mental space I’m missing when my buttons are pushed? The system of Nonviolent or Conscious Communication, which many people find effective, instills the habit of offering oneself empathy before responding to triggers. In Buddhist benefactor practice, a person or place associated with comfort and safety is invoked before sitting with unwanted feelings. The support of this benefactor makes it possible to meet difficult feelings with acceptance – and thus to respond more freely to the people and circumstances that trigger them.
A misplaced asceticism in me thinks it’s cheating to accept support from the Divine Benefactor. I suspect that this drive to make my offerings unaided is really about trying to buy God’s approval. However, the Lenten desert serves the opposite purpose: training ourselves to depend, whenever we are tested, on the love of God.
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