Reflections

Lent: The Season of Self-Examination

Eleanor Deckert

My Mother's relatives were Catholic.


I heard the word 'Lent' when I was a child. I heard the word 'Ash Wednesday' too, but I didn't know what they meant.

Later, when I was in Grade 6, I had a Catholic friend across the street. I asked her about the Rosary, Mary, the saints and Lent. “You have to stop eating chocolate for 40 days,” she told me. “Why?” I asked, since I had no recollection of chocolate mentioned anywhere in the Bible. “Because Jesus died for us.” She was only in Grade 3. I couldn't make the connection between Jesus and pudding. Still, I had an unanswered question and no one else to ask.

World Religions became an interest of mine and I studied the topic in Grade 11 and first year university. I kept my ears open for information on multi-cultural beliefs and customs as I went along.

It seemed to me, as an outsider looking in, that every religion has both the bright, opulent regalia of formal robes and golden objects, rich music and large crowds as part of elaborate rituals and also the opposite - fasting, loin cloths, voluntary poverty, solitude, silence. Think of India - huge crowds, and lone yogis. Think of the statues of Buddah - draped in gold and silk, flowers and flags, and then the bare heads of the saffron robed monks holding their begging bowls. Think of the Vatican - paintings and statues, cathedrals holding treasure beyond measure, and nuns living in barest simplicity. Self-sacrifice demonstrates self-discipline, disinterest in worldly affairs, and self-control of the desires of the body. The Spiritual Path in many cultures includes both much and little.

Recently, I have joined the traditions of the annual rotation of the Liturgical Year.

And so, now I, too, accept the Lenten days of self-examination, root out my own motives and selfish desires, repent, and acknowledge my own weaknesses. I recall turning points and realize how I have done well or badly in thought, word or deed, what I have done and what I have failed to do. Christians believe that sin is real, but so is forgiveness. The search in the dark results in an invitation to a home in the Light.

I remember a specific day in my childhood when I realized how alarming it was to break one of the Ten Commandments.

Every Saturday, Mommy took me to dance class. Afterwards, we went grocery shopping. Sometimes we also had my friend Karen with us. It was one of those days when I was about ten years old when I learned what it feels like to have a conscience. It is amazing how well I remember: I wore a white shirt over my black leotard. I did turns and jumps down the aisles while Mommy selected items from the shelves. I was feeling energetic and quite the show-off.

In every aisle, Karen and I pointed out our favourites and things we wished our mothers would say “Yes” about. We planned imaginary birthday parties and refreshments.

We got to the open candy bin... you know... that round, triple-decker, colourful, overflowing, end-of-the-aisle candy bin!

First, we admired the colours and noticed the favours. We told each other which flavours we had tasted and which we had never had.

We dug around, like in the sand, just savouring the abundance, the endless quantity, the immeasurable wealth of all that candy.

Following Mommy for a few aisles, then returning to the bin, somehow, I decided to do something I have never done before or since.

I took a butterscotch candy. I held it up my sleeve, and that's when I started the inner battle with my conscience.

“That's stealing!”

“There are so many. It doesn't matter.”

“You are stealing!”

“It's probably worth a penny.”

“You TOOK the candy!”

“Look at all the money Mommy is spending... one penny doesn't matter.”

My heart was pounding. I was shaking. I could hardly see. I felt kind of dizzy. I felt like everybody could see the bulge in my sleeve. I couldn't make eye contact with my Mother. I wanted to get out of there.

It was time for me to help Mommy unload the groceries onto the conveyor for the cashier. It was hard to do with my fist around the candy up my sleeve.

It took soooo long. The anxiety inside me was building. Girl Scouts. Sunday School. Moses. Adults who trusted me. My report card. “The Lord can see you all the time.”... So many things were battling inside me, and all for ONE CANDY... maybe LESS than a penny!!!

I couldn't take the torment. I turned and tossed the candy back into the barrel. I hoped my Mother didn't see. I just wanted relief from the awful pressure.

On the way home I wondered... Why did I do that? I had a new friend at school. Becky and I were in 5th Grade. She was so pretty, smart, cool haircut, fancy penmanship, good at gymnastics, pretty clothes. She got potato chips in her lunch!

When I tried to make friends with her, admiring her pencil case, the little troll on her pencil, her cute bunny eraser, little things she had that were so cool that I never had... She said, “I took them.”

“What?” I asked her.

“When my Mom is paying the cashier or in another part of the store, I take whatever I want.”

I had so much wanted to be like her, to have something cool and have her admire me. I had tried to “Just take it” and I had felt such agony.

I wondered. “Was that my conscience?” And I also wondered, “Does she not feel this?”

Since that first unforgettable experience with “Self-Examination,” I have had a lot more practice. Now I can see that my yearning for chocolate is less important than my yearning for the Lord.