A Contemplative Reflection on Asceticism
for the Season of Lent
The quilt detail shown here is my personal effort at creating a tapestry - a wall hanging featuring fabric and color in pleasing balanced design. A tapestry image was the gift I received in meditation a few days ago. The thought was framed by the notion of creating something beautiful for God out of the mystery of my life. It would be varied, bright and pleasing to the eye.
But yesterday, as we prayed a version of the 'morning offering' that is part of our Office prayers, I was blessed with another understanding. The prayer reads: Lord Jesus Christ, I offer to your loving heart all the little annoyances, inconveniences, joys and pleasures, sufferings and trials which may come to me today. Change them into mighty graces, apply them to the spread of your kingdom, to the work of our missionaries, to the salvation of the most abandoned souls, (to which I add) and for family and friends most in need of prayer today.
In reading those words and speaking them in my heart, I was given another understanding of the tapestry image. I realized that my bright and colorful tapestry would not be created by holy, heroic, pre-planned devotional offerings and great acts. Rather, it would be a creation of the uneven and messy, not necessarily color coordinated, "little annoyances, inconveniences, joys and pleasure, sufferings and trials" of my life. This is what is real; this is what creates the tapestry. That may be the truth but it is not what my ego so much prefers, the bright, pleasingly designed and colored tapestry of my first image. Surely, only that perfection could be a fitting gift to present to God. However, I was graced with the realization that the highly idealized vision is merely the creation of a controlling ego. To allow the tapestry to take its own shape; to fall into place in the random fashion that is God's design; and to freely accept the colors and tones left behind only by the Spirit's grace, is to require a degree of surrender and letting go which continues to elude me. This is the central illusion; the illusion of personal control, of mastery, of perfection. To be truthful, letting go does not so much elude me as much as I remain resistant to it because my ego stubbornly clings to its own plan, its own vision, its singular perception of the way things ought to be. Perhaps the grace of these meditative experiences, this light of grace, is to accept the inspiration offered for Lenten asceticism; an acseticism of acceptance. It would be a surrender to the "little annoyances, inconveniences, joys and pleasures, sufferings and trials" of each day, just as they come. In surrender, acceptance and letting go they would be transformed into the materials of my tapestry in hues and tones, texture and weight expressly chosen for me by God alone. The finished product, truth be told, will be worn and threadbare in spots, even faded by the light of grace sought time and again in moments of human frailty; a testimony to perseverance.