Column: It’s good to be disturbed this Lent

by Mark Goldasich

Here is kind of a disturbing story:

Once upon a time, a man saw an apple tree so loaded with fruit that, all around, the laden branches were propped up to keep them off the ground. When asked why, the owner of the orchard said, “Go look at that tree’s trunk near the bottom.” The man noticed that the tree had been badly wounded with a deep gash.

“That’s something we’ve learned about apple trees,” said the owner. “When the tree tends to run to wood and leaves and not to fruit, we wound it, gash it, and almost always — no one knows why — this is the result: It turns its energies to fruit.” (Adapted from Anthony Castle’s “A Treasury of Quips, Quotes & Anecdotes for Preachers and Teachers.”)

Not being a botanist, I have no idea if this is actually true; so don’t go gashing the apple trees in your yard. However, as a symbol for what Lent can be, it’s great. In a sense, all of us are like “lazy” apple trees when it comes to our faith. The season of Lent is our yearly “gashing” — through the traditional disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving — that allows us to turn our energies again to bearing good and plentiful fruit.

In an effort to bear fruit — to grow in holiness — why not do something puny this Lent? That advice comes from Jesuit Father Mark Thibodeaux in a wonderful, practical article on pages 7-9 in this issue. Relax with it later and savor its wisdom.

Father Mark is right in saying that most of us bite off more than we can chew during Lent and end up abandoning the season long before the Triduum. Since I tend to be one of those people, here’s how I’m planning to do my puny Lent this time around.

I’ll sit down this weekend with a small basket, my various to-do lists, and 43 small pieces of paper — one for each day of Lent. I’ll write one task on each piece of paper, fold them up and pop them into the basket. Each Lenten morning, I’ll surprise myself by picking out one paper. The task will take anywhere from a few minutes to complete to up to an hour or more.

A few of my Lenten tasks are:

• Use up gift cards

• Watch an uplifting movie (like “The Way” or “Of Gods and Men”)

• Be a secret Samaritan (do good anonymously)

• Slow down and savor a spiritual book

• Toss the cost of a “fancy” meal into the Rice Bowl

• Scan in some old photos, and then pray for the people pictured there

• Take a nature walk

• Bring order to a neglected drawer, cabinet or paper pile

• Pray for an enemy

If I still start to slack, this prayer, written by Sir Francis Drake in 1577, should get me back on track: “Disturb us, Lord, when we are too well-pleased with ourselves, when our dreams have come true because we have dreamed too little, when we arrive safely because we have sailed too close to the shore.

“Disturb us, Lord, when with the abundance of things we possess, we have lost our thirst for the waters of life; having fallen in love with life, we have ceased to dream of eternity; and in our effort to build a new earth, we have allowed our vision of the new heaven to dim.

“Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly, to venture on wider seas where storms will show your mastery; where losing sight of land, we shall find the stars. We ask you to push back the horizons of our hopes and to push us into the future in strength, courage, hope and love.”

To that I can only say, “Amen!”

 

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