While in college, I volunteered for the awesome, humbling, sanctifying job of cleaning the church. Every week I vacuumed, scrubbed, polished, dusted, and disinfected — all in the Presence of Jesus. What a dream! Ora et labora in His Presence.
Growing up as a “cradle Catholic,” it was instinctive to genuflect every time I passed the center aisle (although, I really didn’t understand why). But when you’re cleaning the center aisle, it gets a little redundant:
Push the vacuum forward.
Pull the vacuum back.
Push the vacuum forward.
Oops! The cord doesn’t stretch. Walk back to to unplug the cord.
Unplug cord. Walk toward the new outlet.
Part of me said, “This is ridiculous!” Another part of me said, “No, this is God. Why should care if anything is clean EVER?! I should be on my face adoring 24/7!”
I knew both of my instincts, while containing some truth, were wrong. Newly ripe from my adult conversion, I didn’t know that theologians have written volumes on the very internal tension that the Word being made flesh was causing in my brain or that there were Church disciplines and suggested codes of conduct for church workers, I just knew I wanted to be physically near my Lord and work in service of Him.
In a moment of infused grace, I pushed aside the scruples swirling through my mind, and just decided that when I genuflected, I would bow with my heart first.
When it came time to cross that center aisle, I would look at the Tabernacle, smile at “Him, whom my soul loves,” and imagine my heart bowing, bringing the rest of my body with it. This decision brought me abundant peace in my cleaning duties. I was filled with joy again while serving Him with the work of my hands.
Flash forward about seven years and, this Lent, I am in desperate need of “Lent-ing” from the heart. Having been pregnant and nursing continuously for the last 5 years, during any penitential period, I get cases of: “Eh, I don’t really have to stick to my Lenten resolution, because of ‘hormones’ and ‘nutrient deficiencies’ (that this can of soda is going to rectify, right?), so, God will understand...” I’ve been letting my bodily desires call the shots, and my heart has just kind of been limping along behind.***
Today, as I prepare for Ash Wednesday, I’m begging God for the grace to live this Lent — and to perform all of the liturgical devotions that accompany it — from the heart. To bow with my heart first. To fast from my heart first. To walk past the candy in the check-out lane with my heart first.
My hope is that, if I do it with my heart first, my body will follow.
***Pregnant or nursing women are exempt from disciplinary fasting and abstinence according to their need for meat or nourishment. But, a handful of nuts or some red meat would probably be a better choice than a Snicker’s bar, am I right?