"Spirari" by John Duckworth

It’s the first Sunday in Lent, but instead of church, I’m being penitent at home, sifting through piles, sorting through stacks of notes, magazines and journals half-read and put aside for that elusive “another time,” that blank canvas of space, hours and attention that I can’t seem to find — it’s sunk too far under the clutter and eaten away by a gnawing sense of being perpetually behind.

And this just four days after Ash Wednesday. After sitting quietly in Circular Church’s worn old pews, reflecting with intention and ambition, even, on doing Lent right this year. My goal: To embrace these 40 days by opening myself to something beyond my ineffective habits. To prune and clear away that which doesn’t serve me (those piles!) and make room for an eastering growth.

Outwardly I “gave up” the car, planning to make as many trips as possible by bike during these 40 days, but the next morning was running late for a meeting and surrendered, turning the key in the ignition instead. Inwardly, I intended to “give up” the destructive drive for affirmation, to explore the harsh edges of ego that trip me up, that I need to relinquish to make room for generosity, for possibility, to open doors to authentic creative work that is not driven by a greedy need for recognition. This is what I wrote on the note paper that the ushers gathered from my fellow Ash Wednesday worshipers; this was the burden I wished to lay down, to bring to the altar and add to the small fire of similar notes that was ignited right there in a small urn on the communion table, from which we then stirred the ashes and made the imposition of a cross, however faintly, on our forehead.

The bike riding is so much easier, and even then, I’ve fallen short several car trips already.

Maybe Lent isn’t about winning the self-discipline war. Maybe it isn’t about achieving goals and mastering intentions, and feeling proud and accomplished at doing so.  Perhaps this sense of failure is my desert, my wilderness, and wandering is just that, wandering. This unraveled unease is my annoying traveling companion, who obviously needs a shower.

Not long ago I visited the artist John Duckworth’s studio, and was mesmerized by these photographs —  so full of motion, of gracefulness and dancing mystery.  “Is it a fabric? Tissue paper or ink dissolved in some solution?” I asked.  “No one ever guesses it,” John said. “It’s fire. A flame.”

Spirari, the photography series title, is from the Latin, to breathe.  “I’m inspired by the delicate movement that comes from such a harsh element,” John said.

When our Ash Wednesday offerings were turned to brief ephemeral flame, two things flashed to mind: the residual ashes that did not fit in my mother’s columbarium and still sit (waiting for my sisters)  in my dining room, and these searing images.  To burn. To burnish. To breathe. To let what is harsh and destructive in us also open the way toward delicate movement.

Is it possible?

~ by Stephanie on 02/26/2012.

5 Responses to “already.Lent.stalls”

  1. Yes. Easter calls us to embrace the Risen One’s love and openness of heart and spirit, enabling us to transform the Good Fridays of our lives into Easter mornings.

  2. Sometimes I have to read your writing and then sigh. And then leave it and then come back to read it again. I will be back.

  3. Thank you Stephanie- this piece touched me in my own perpetually behind striving. -Sarah

  4. Wonderful job of capturing the challenge of the wilderness.

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