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Archive for the ‘Lent’ Category

I am alone.      

I walk along a shadowed path, a dark Lenten journey into self consideration.

Night has fallen early; I can barely see the way ahead. I stumble and fall, many times, for I am weak and unsure of my way. Where should I turn?

The black forest closes around me, tall trees of sins surround me: mighty redwoods of past transgressions on the left, massive oaks of inaction on the right.

Suddenly my feet step onto a metal sidewalk that carries me into the darkness. It slowly descends, a one-way escalator, a monstrous, mechanical movement machine, pulling me down into a deep chasm.

Like a giant indoor shopping mall, each level I pass has dozens of window displays. But instead of stores fronts, each display is a large video screen with film adaptations of my life, scenes in which I take no pride.      

I am George McFly in Back to the Future—cowardly, intimidated by aggressive people and insecure about my writing.

I am Peter Banning in Hook—so consumed by my job that I forget who I am and what’s most important in life. So focused on finances, I yell at my children when things are not going right.

Lower and lower I glide to the levels below.

I am Lester Burnham in American Beauty—restless and easily distracted by a lustful imagination. Faced with familiar temptations, I covet an irresponsible future.

I am Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind—prideful and boastful, I care more about what happens to me than others. I walk away instead of dealing with matters most important.

Deeper into the darkness I descend.

I am Peter in The Passion of the Christ—bragging that I will follow Our Lord wherever he goes. However, when faced with trouble and perhaps my own mortality, I deny His existence three times.      

I am Michael Corleone in The Godfather—first an innocent family member, then a good soldier. With moderate success, I am tempted by the power and feel the overwhelming need to control every situation, no matter the cost.

Lower and lower the steps descend to final level. A sign hangs overhead the entrance to Hades: “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”   

I am Christy Nielsen in What Dreams May Come. I have died in a car accident, like my children before me. All three deaths were terrible accidents, yet my Annie blames herself for each of them. She takes her own life and ends up in Hell.

Yet Hell is not fire and brimstone. The real Hell is your life gone badly, in its worst possible state. You must spend eternity living that life, without knowing kindness, peace or love.

styx1I must find Annie in this blackest corner of Hell and convince her that she was wrong about her life. I cross a sea of faces—helpless souls crying for help. Thousands of bodies floating in the dark water claw at my boat. 

Upon reaching the shore, I walk past beached ocean liners, the steel ships broken and smoldering, their passengers trapped by flames and unbreakable chains.

Against all odds, I find Annie, my soul mate, and remind her of our love. I convince her that I will remain with her always, no matter the outcome. Her eyes open wide with recognition and her heart fills with gladness. She is lifted up and disappears to our peaceful corner of heaven.   

Yet I remain, for my sins weigh heavily upon my heart.

Softly, clearly, the sweet melody and powerful words of Rory Cooney’s song come to mind: Change our hearts, this time, your Word says it can be. Change our minds, this time, your life could make us free. We are the people your call set apart, Lord this time, change our hearts.

I acknowledge my past sins and open my sorrowful heart to God, begging for his forgiveness.

There in a dark corner, away from everything else, a light softly glows. I look and see it coming from a cave of freshly hewn rock. The stone that once covered the opening has been rolled away.

As I step inside, I see the end of a tree, a giant log rising upward toward the heavens. I step onto the timber and climb, my feet steadied by the nails pounded into the trunk.

The timber rises higher and higher, but it does not fall. It is supported by another timber that crosses underneath and holds it up. The light from above guides me home.

I feel alive again with hope, for all is forgiven. By the strength of this cross I am free.

I rise above the darkness to see the sun rise over the mountain of joy. It illuminates the world and out shines the midnight stars.

I am alone…no more.

CF
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First published in the March 20, 2009 issue of The Tennessee Register.
© 2009 Christopher Fenoglio.

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My need for silence started a couple of years ago after a long day at the office. The radio was blaring and my head was throbbing, so I just turned the car radio off.

After hours of long phone calls, noisy meetings, even my favorite music playing in the background, I needed some quiet time.

It took a few minutes, but the gradual effects were noticeable. No longer pounded by interruption advertising and inane DJ banter, I started to relax. The sound waves from the radio faded into other space. The only audible sounds were the hum of the engine and the harmonic tones of the tires on the pavement. Soon those sounds were replaced by the closing of the garage door and the sweet melodies of backyard songbirds.

In the silence I could hear my own thoughts again, unencumbered by the media messages that pelted my consciousness throughout the day.

E-mails, voice mails, Blackberrys, blogs. Facebook, e-book, hypertext and Twitter logs. Useful is technology, but it sometimes gets the best of me.

Pope Benedict XVI, in his recent World Day of Communications address, said that new technology, such as social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace, helps facilitate our “fundamental desire” to communicate. These sites can foster friendships and understanding, but he warns that “obsessive” virtual socializing can isolate people from real interaction and deepen the digital divide by excluding those already marginalized.

Christianity Today’s senior managing editor Mark Galli shared a similar sentiment in a recent online article. He wrote that while Facebook “facilitates broad connectivity, I believe it does so at the expense of intimacy. Intimacy is what we really want. But because we are lazy and fearful creatures, we’ll settle for connectivity, because connectivity suggests intimacy but without all the bother.”

Put aside the sexual connotations of “intimacy” that our culture uses on a daily basis. Instead, think of the close, personal relationships you have with family and friends—people who know how you think, accept you for who you are and relate to you in terms you both understand.

I like Facebook. It’s a fun tool to connect with friends and classmates, share photos, read their lists of 25 random facts about themselves or finally learn what really happened on that Spring Break trip two decades ago.

But it’s also a powerful attention grabber and a malicious time sucker. It’s no replacement for the intimacy shared by good friends or the kitchen-table talks we have with family members.

Instead of talking face-to-face, people are chatting in cyberspace.

The dangers of social isolation through the media and modern technology are illustrated in three popular films:

In the future according to Pixar, Wall•E depicts 29th century men and women as inactive, fatty blobs who don’t use any muscles. Centuries ago they left Earth on a large space cruise ship so that robots could clean up the trash and make the planet habitable again. While the humans wait, they sip gallons of liquid nourishment, ride around on hover machines and talk to other people only through video screens.

One day a robot named Wall•E hops a ride on a rocket and boards the space cruiser. Through fortunate misadventures, Wall•E causes trouble and forces people to stand up and talk to each other – face-to-face. He saves the day in more ways than one.

In The Truman Show, Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey) is the unwitting and unknowing star of a non-stop TV show that chronicles his entire life from birth to the end. Truman’s house, hometown, his friends, family, job, recreation—his whole life—is fabricated for the benefit of the TV show. Everyone he interacts with is an actor playing a role. They advance the plot, pitch products, even introduce new girlfriends to increase the show’s ratings.

One day Truman sees clues that his universe is not quite what he thought. He rebels against the show and tries to escape. Christof (Ed Harris) the director tries his best to keep Truman imprisoned in the artificial world, to disastrous results.

Unlike Truman, Eddie Pekurny (Matthew McConaughey) is a normal guy who agrees to become the star of a 24-hour reality TV show in the film EdTV. Cameramen follow him around town documenting his every move, recording every word. Ed enjoys the limelight and the popularity, but soon realizes that the omnipresent media is ruining his family and any chance of a normal relationship with his girlfriend Shari (Jenna Elfman).

Ed eventually finds an ally in his producer (Ellen Degeneres) and they plot a way out of the show and an end to the watchful eyes and ears of the media.

Today, with the media playing such an omnipresent role in our culture, it’s tough to escape, clear one’s head and find time to pray—in order to develop and strengthen our intimate relationship with God.

The upcoming season of Lent is a great time to start enjoying the silence.

Unplug, disconnect, log off the Internet. Spend this Lent in solitude, listening to God with certitude.

CF

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First published in the February 20, 2009 issue of The Tennessee Register.
© 2009 Christopher Fenoglio.

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The darkened sanctuary was still, very quiet, yet inviting to this late night traveler.

“I’ll just drop the music off and head home,” I thought. But the opportunity to spend time alone with God was before me, so I put aside one need for another.

The candle flame next to the tabernacle flickered behind the scarlet glass, a beacon for all travelers to stop for a moment and find some comfort.

Kneeling, resting, thinking, breathing, sorting through the day’s events one more time before they fall out of my mind, shoved behind the door marked “Tomorrow,” today’s room is still open and waiting to welcome the divine.

But before I converse with Our Lord, my thoughts go to preparations for Lent. What should I do? What should I give up? How should my wife and I remind our teenagers about the season? What will my co-workers say about my ashes? Do I have to explain meatless Fridays again?

Wait, stop, quiet, be at peace with the words of Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want. In green pastures he gives me repose, beside still waters he leads me; he refreshes my soul.”

Resolve to live the lyrics of Anyway (written by Martina McBride, Brad Warren and Brett Warren, sung by McBride): “God is great, but sometimes life ain’t good. And when I pray it doesn’t always turn out like I think it should, but I do it anyway.”

Believe the words of The Change (written by Tony Arata and Wayne Tester, sung by Garth Brooks): “One hand reaches out and pulls a lost soul from harm while a thousand more go unspoken for … And I hear them saying you’ll never change things and no matter what you do it’s still the same thing. But it’s not the world that I am changing. I do this so this world will know that it will not change me.”

Peace, quiet, stillness.

Images appear in my mind, pictures from Pay it Forward, a film starring Haley Joel Osment, Kevin Spacey and Helen Hunt, in which a small boy forever changes the lives of his family and community. Challenged by his teacher to not only think of something that would change the world but to also put it into action, young Trevor comes up with a simple idea: instead of paying someone back for a good deed, pay it forward.

Pay it ForwardHe tells his classmates that each of us is the first point of a social network of good will. We should each do something good for three people. Instead of paying us back, each of those three people should look forward and do something good for three more people. The multiplication of good deeds to others will build a true city of God among us.

During Lent, we should pray and reflect on our place in this network of goodwill.

Soaring over the red roofed buildings of a small French town, scenes appear from the film Chocolat. Starring Juliette Binoche, Judi Dench and Johnny Depp, the townspeople and spirit of a small town is renewed by the smells and tastes in the new chocolate shop.

It would be superficial to peg this film as contradictory to the Lenten lessons of fasting and sacrifice. Since chocolate is often a common treat given up during Lent, one could easily equate each bite to a rebuke of the church’s teachings.

But when the mayor of the town spreads cruel rumors about the shop owner, rewrites the priest’s homilies to match his “superior” beliefs on self sacrifice, and mobilizes the town against the temptations and immorality of the chocolate shop, we realize there are indeed deeper meanings involved.

For many years, the townspeople feared outsiders, discriminated against the infirmed and ignored injustices by their neighbors. But by the end of the film, with the last breaths of the clever North wind of change, the people and town breathe in a new spirit of living.

As the young priest exhorts in his Easter homily, “We can’t go around and measure our goodness by what we don’t do, what we resist, and who we exclude. I think we’ve got to measure goodness by what we embrace, what we create and who we include.”

The pictures stop, quiet returns to my meditations, I’m alone again in the sanctuary, waiting for God to arrive and spend some time with me.

But then I realize he has been here the whole time, speaking to me through music and films, touching my heart and refreshing my soul.

Lord, you are the potter, I am the clay. Though I am a sinner, I trust in your mercy and love. Do not consider what I truly deserve, but grant me your forgiveness.

For Lent is here, a time to reflect, examine, discover, abstain, embrace, create and include.

More time is needed, a return trip is necessary, another session looking inside, where I will find you, again.

CF
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First published in the February 23, 2007 issue of The Tennessee Register.
© 2007 Christopher Fenoglio

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