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Friday after Ash Wednesday–Becoming Myself

  • Posted on Feb 27, 2009

Becoming Myself

No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins; if it is, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are destroyed; but new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved. Matthew 9:16-17

The initial “threshold” movement of Lent is to move inward. Beginning with Ash Wednesday and into the early weeks of Lent, we are invited to go deeper into our own self–the glories and the defeats. The places that we shine with God’s light and love and the places where we turn away from God.

In her poem, “Now I Become Myself,” May Sarton writes these lines:

Now I become myself.
It’s taken time, many years and places.
I have been dissolved and shaken,
Worn other people’s faces….

The time of Lent always coincides with three important anniversaries in my life: my birthday and the anniversaries of both my parents’ death. This time of year, I spend a good deal of time remembering my parents and assessing where I find myself with another year under my life belt. As I look back over the years, I know that I have worn my parents’ faces in many parts of my life. One face that has dominated my vocational life is the face and life of my father.

After my mother’s death when I was just entering my teenage years, my father and I deepened what was already a strong bond. As a little girl, I thought my father was the greatest thing on earth. As a railroad lawyer, he spent his workweeks in Chicago. I only saw him on the weekends. On the weekends, I was his shadow. I got up early so I could eat breakfast with him–imitating his eating style of “get it done quickly.” I followed him around as much as I could in the garden. I would read nearby as he settled into his comfortable chair for an afternoon read and nap. Some evenings, we would dance to the soundtrack of “Around the World in Eighty Days” on the hi-fi. The best treat in the whole world on summer Saturdays was to climb on the tractor with Daddy and ride along as he mowed the seven acres of grass.

When my mother died, he became even more important in my life. Not only was he a great weekend companion, he was my rock and shield. I depended on him in ways I still cannot properly articulate. About that time, I decided that I wanted to become a lawyer–like my father. This dream continued throughout high school and into college. When I came to my senior year of college, it was time to start law school applications. That’s when I hit the first snag. I couldn’t really answer the question in print or voice: Why do you want to become a lawyer? Nothing there.

When I arrived at law school in the fall of 1980, I did not have the usual glee and excitement that I always had during the first week of school. I was out-of-kilter in more ways than one. Once classes started, I could not warm to the legal way of thinking. I never warmed to the legal way of thinking. Through three years of law school, a job in a law firm, and another year of tax law school, I could not get a handle on the law in a way that satisfied me. I could do it. I did not love it. I had no passion for it. For more than 10 years, I vocationally wore my father’s face. My mind could not recognize this fact. My deep self knew all along.

It took my father’s death in 1988 to realize that I was living a life not my own. Shortly after his death, I realized that I no longer wanted to practice law. I was at a threshold point in my law career–about to leave my clerkship at the Tax Court and go back to private practice or enter government service. I remember the day the reality of my life came rushing towards me. I was at an interview lunch at a swanky restaurant on K Street in Washington D.C. with the partners in a tax boutique firm. As they asked me questions such as “What would excite you about being with our firm?” I realized that I had nothing to say. I was not excited. It was like that essay question on the law school application about 10 years back: Why do you want to be a lawyer? I had nothing to say both times, because truly that was not my soul’s calling. That day on K Street, I was 30 years old and I had no idea what my soul’s calling was. On a Lenten journey that lasted a few years, I was to find out that God knew. God knew all along. I just had to turn toward God and with God, go deep within. That was the key to opening my deep self. To becoming my true self that God knew and loved from the time that I was born.

Text: Matthew 9:10-17
Question: What faces have you worn in your life that are not your own? This Lent, is it time to turn closer to God and together see how you can remove a mask and uncover your deepest self?