In today’s readings and in the Church’s Lenten tradition, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are the recommended practices for Lent. In these days, I’ve realized there is a surprisingly direct connection between these practices and a communications spirituality, or an “asceticism” for Catholic media artists.
Communication spirituality encourages us to look at communication in all its aspects, on all levels, and with everyone with whom we communicate. Our first, most basic communication happens with ourselves, being self-aware and “in tune with” what is happening inside of us. When we are in harmony with ourselves, we are connected to our own thoughts and emotions and our own experiences. This foundational communication or connection with ourselves is strengthened when we eliminate the ways we distract ourselves from the bigger questions in our lives. Fasting–whether from food or something else that we enjoy–helps us to focus our attention on what’s going on inside of us, whether it’s comfortable or not. When we fast, we aren’t filling ourselves with superficialities, and so we discover the inner “holes,” the empty spaces, the neediness inside of ourselves. For me, fasting is a bit like going into the desert and allowing the discomfort or silence to uncover my inner illusions, the ways I “cover up” the empty places in my life and heart. This awareness is important for living a holy and integrated life. We can only accept or address the emptiness in ourselves when we are aware of it.
The second, and most important, communication is with God, who is always seeking to bring us into communion with himself. Taking time for prayer allows us to deepen our communication with God, focusing on the important relationship in our life–with our very Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. When we have been fasting and mindful of our inner life, our Lenten prayer allows us to bring our inner emptiness to God and allow him to fill us in his own time and way. Every Lent I choose to give more importance to my times of prayer. Whether it’s adding a few extra minutes, or simply paying more attention to God (rather than talking to myself), real prayer connects us directly to the God who loves us and wishes to save us and to save through us.
Thirdly, communicating with others is probably the aspect of communication that we usually do the most and think of first. Whether it’s direct (face to face), or mediated, using technology such as the telephone or a TV broadcast, this is the aspect of communication that often takes the most effort to do well. Almsgiving can help us with this, because it shifts our focus from our own needs to those of others. Just to discover what the needs of others are requires that we become better listeners.
So, the question I’m raising for myself this Lent is really threefold:
1) What can I fast from to become more mindful and aware of what’s going on inside of me (and thus become more aware of what’s going on between God and me, and others and me)?
2) What creative step can I take in prayer so that I deepen my relationship and communion with God?
3) How can I deepen my communication with other people, especially how can I listen better to their needs, and respond more generously? What kind of “alms” am I being invited to give this Lent?