Last year, just prior to the Lenten season, I began to dream about Gran Bwa. I can remember those dreams – I was searching for him. He was walking ahead of me, wearing a mask, but I knew who it was. He never spoke to me, or if he did, I never remembered what it was he said or those parts of the dream. But I can remember following after him, attempting to catch up with him so that I could ask him what he was doing in my dreams. Around the same time, I began to dream about Papa Legba in that veritable forest-of-my-dreams that I now associate almost exclusively with Gran Bwa. On nights where Papa Legba showed up, we mostly sat in companionable silence around a large bonfire. Sometimes, we would talk, but he never answered my questions about Gran Bwa. All he would ever tell me was that it would be up to me to decide why I was following after him and what it was that was supposed to mean. I back-burnered those dreams because I couldn’t make heads nor tails of them. I figured when it was time for me to figure out what in the world was going on, then I’d figure it out.
On Ash Wednesday last year, I drove by the Catholic Church the way I did every day on my way to work. And I can remember seeing that the parking lot was very full and I remember wondering to myself, what in the world is going on? I did some quick calculations in my head and realized that the Lenten season had begun. I thought about what, to me, Lent meant. In my brain, it meant that you started everything off with ashes upon your brow and then gave things up that meant a lot to you. Most of my experience, to that point, with the whole concept stemmed from conversations I had overheard from my Catholic family members and from Catholic employees. One of my past employees … I remembered, on that drive, she had begged to go to church to get the ashes on her brow during her shift and I covered her shift while she was gone. When she came back, she gave up lottery tickets and swearing – two things that were inherently a part of her – for the next forty days and we all made sure she stuck to it. That moment was a turning point in my life, something I didn’t fully understand and even a year later, I hardly understand it now.
That was my first time attempt to celebrate Lent. In the grand scheme of things, I failed. And with it went a lot of other things that I ended up failing at. I felt, back then, that it was Gran Bwa pushing me to observe the sacrifice. And I still believe that it was him with those dreams and the odd music choices that would come on the radio when I was contemplating those dreams that led me to observe Lent last year. Since I ended up failing at sacrifice, I felt as though I was failing Gran Bwa. Twelve months later, I still feel more than a modicum of guilt at having eaten the chocolate cake. I started over, of course, after that failure but it felt less… pure and less willing. By then, it felt like I was wearing clothes too tight for me and I was uncomfortable. I had fucked up. I had to learn the lesson – I suck at the sacrifice shit – and move on. Gran Bwa stopped visiting me in dreams and I was pretty sure the two more than just a little tied together.
What I failed to understand was that the whole thing – Lenten season and what I saw it as – was incorrect. I had to do more research.
As I said back then, and I’ve commented on since, I wasn’t ever raised as a Catholic. Lent season, in my eyes, tends to be held in a different sort of reverence with Catholics than it does with other sects. I was raised in the Methodist church and I honestly can’t remember doing anything for Lent. I just checked out my childhood church’s website and noted that yes, there are things that they do for the Lenten season. Perhaps the amount of sacrifice or the amount of reverie isn’t as intense as it is with Catholics and that’s why I think Catholics feel it more intently? I honestly don’t know where this feeling stems from. I don’t remember my mother ever giving anything up for Lent when I was a child and whatever conversations I overheard from my maternal family about it are very watery and distant. Looking at all of this, I had to admit that I don’t know shit.
Why is this important to Papa Legba? Why is observing Lent important to the voodoo things that I do? What does all of this mean?
So, I started doing some research. I read this FAQ about it to get me going. I have to admit that a lot of what I was reading made me uncomfortable. I’m not a Catholic, nor do I intend on becoming one. There are bits and pieces of the religious tradition that I always found interesting and something beautiful, but the overall message that it sends out there has always made me uncomfortable. Hell, let’s be frank: organized religion on such a mass scale is the problem. I don’t like it. I think religion should be something personal and individual, but you can’t do that with the Christian traditions that I have taken part in. You have to have the community and the man or woman at the pulpit, telling you what to do and how to do it. That is what bothers me. God, Bondye, Super Nebulous Void Guy, whatever – whatever relationship that is built should be based on the needs and requirements of the soul looking for that connection. But that’s not all that has gotten me while reading up on this stuff.
This quote is something that makes me uncomfortable: “The key to understanding the meaning of Lent is simple: Baptism. Preparation for Baptism and for renewing baptismal commitment lies at the heart of the season.” The act of baptism has always baffled me. In many traditions, we put some water over a child’s head and christen them into a set denomination. That, in and of itself, bothers me. My son is not baptized and he won’t be unless he makes a decision to do so. I think, part of the reason why baptism has always bothered me is because it’s a decision, again like the relationship with deity, in which someone should be able to make on their own and not be made by their parents. I think another reason why it baffles me is because, again, I think relationships with deity need to be a personal thing. While I do acknowledge that the laity need priests to act as intermediaries, I don’t think it’s on the same level that priests and reverends are utilized in many Christian traditions. (I’m sorry if this isn’t very clear. It’s all kind of a *speechless in an attempt to explain*.) Back to the quote: my discomfiture mostly stems from someone’s parents making a huge commitment on behalf of a baby and then forcing them to see it through until the end of time or until they’re finally old enough to make their own decisions.
But, let’s go back to that – the parents make a decision for their children. And then the children are expected to follow through on that decision until they are old enough to make their own religious decisions. But the quote doesn’t talk about that. It talks about a renewal of the baptismal commitment. So, in a way, it’s like the Church is openly acknowledging that baptismal commitments need to be reconnected. Okay, but is that because childrens’ parents make a decision for them or is that just because they may be lacking in a few key areas? I don’t know. And because this is all very new and weird territory for me, this is why it makes me very uncomfortable and I feel weird discussing it. But these are things that I have to address because I guess I promised to do this every year. So, I need to stop being uncomfortable and make some decisions.
Even though the first part of that FAQ had me questioning a million things, I kept reading. I had other things to look into, of course, because Lent is more than just giving things up, right? So, I kept going. And of course, there was a section about giving things up. I read the section on it, brow furrowed. Then I got to this part: “Lent is about conversion, turning our lives more completely over to Christ and his way of life. That always involves giving up sin in some form. The goal is not just to abstain from sin for the duration of Lent but to root sin out of our lives forever. Conversion means leaving behind an old way of living and acting in order to embrace new life in Christ.” Well, that actually explained it better than I ever could. And it made me understand things a little bit better. It wasn’t just an act of giving things up because, hey let’s do that! But it was about giving lives over to Christ and to his way of life as well as to give up sins. That didn’t sit well with me, either.
I know this is because, again, I’m coming at all of this from a different perspective than most. The concept of Christian sin has always confused me. It varies from sect to sect, honestly. Some people would see it as a sin to “be a homosexual,” (as if there is a choice involved) while other sects do not find this sinful at all. I mean, sins as they exist according to doctrine are pretty complicated things. It’s more than just breaking the Ten Commandments because there’s so much more in the world that constitutes as a sin. The thing is that some of the things other people give up don’t seem to be sins, in my eyes. Someone I know is giving up potatoes. (She’s not Catholic and this is actually an experiment or something for one of her college classes, but people give up food all the time. I gave up chocolate last year.) Is eating potatoes a sin? Is eating chocolate a sin? No. But there are people out there who give up eating certain foods. They give up drinking a certain drink. They give up all manner of things, but is it really an act of giving up sin?
How many people can really say that they come out of the Lenten season free of sin?
And again, I keep coming back to that word. I don’t like it. It doesn’t sit right with me at all. Maybe it’s because in Kemeticism we don’t really have a concept like that. We have living in ma’at and not living in ma’at. There’s no middle ground. There’s no accidental “sin” in which we may be isfet briefly and then go right back to being in ma’at. The 42 Divine Utterances are hardly even an indicator about what is or is not considered living in ma’at since they changed from person to person – but that’s my overall view on this religion stuff, isn’t it? Whatever constitutes “sin,” whether it be of a religious nature or otherwise, is up to the person who is giving up that sin. Minus the bit about Christ and his way of life, since I don’t follow that in any way, it makes more sense and that bit about sin makes me less uncomfortable.
I kept reading because the next part was very interesting. It talks about “The Scrutinies.” This was whole new territory to me because I had never even heard about that shit before. What was that about? This stood out to me: “To scrutinize something means to examine it closely. The community does not scrutinize the catechumens; the catechumens scrutinize their own lives and allow God to scrutinize them and to heal them.” But who were the catechumens and how come they were the only ones scrutinizing? Why can’t everyone scrutinize? Why can’t they all put everything under a microscope and make some mass decisions about what’s going on deep inside? “There is a danger in celebrating the Scrutinies if the community thinks of the elect as the only sinners in our midst who need conversion. All of us are called to continuing conversion throughout our lives, so we join with the elect in scrutinizing our own lives and praying to God for the grace to overcome the power of sin that still infects our hearts.” Well, that answered that question.
So, scrutinizing one’s life is pretty much a no-brainer, it’s part and parcel. And if you’re not part of the elect because you’ve already been baptized, then you get to go through the Sacrament of Penance.
And that’s when I kind of put it all together. I realized that this wasn’t really an act of sacrifice, although sacrifice is definitely a part of what I’ve been asked to do. But it’s also about Scrutiny and it’s also about Silence. It’s also about Patience and it’s also about Introspection and Reflection. But above all, this time is about me and my needs. This isn’t about Papa Legba. This isn’t about Gran Bwa. This isn’t about Sekhmet. This isn’t about Djehuty, Hetheru, Aset, Wesir, the community, the bigger picture, or anything in between. This entire experience is about me because I am important. My wants and needs are important. What I need to bring to the metaphoric table is absolutely fucking important. And I need to remember that. I need to take time away from the heavy hitters and away from everything that’s been pounding down on my head for the last few months, take a bunch of deep breaths, and reflect, introspect, scrutinize, decide.
This year, I went into Lent with a different perspective. I knew a little bit more about what the basis of Lent was, for starters. I had done what I should have done last year and actually looked things up. While I’ve admitted, here, that a lot of what I read didn’t agree with me or left me feeling uncomfortable, vaguely confused, and generally feeling like the overall message for Catholics didn’t quite fit with me, I’ve come to understand the basic premise in the tradition. I get it. Or at least I am beginning to.
This year, I went into Lent knowing that I would be giving up a major part of my life. I gave up diet Coke. People reading this might laugh at me, but I don’t think you understand how much diet Coke I drink. I drink a lot of it, every day. It’s a staple to me, as much as milk and coffee are. But I knew I had to do something bigger than just chocolate. I can handle not having chocolate for forty days (even if I’m too stupid to remember that I’m eating chocolate cake). Chocolate isn’t as important to me as diet Coke is. So, I knew that I wanted to give up a staple in my life. I gave up diet Coke and I’ll admit, every day, I think about drinking diet Coke. Someone said that it gets better after a while. It’s Saturday, so I haven’t had any diet Coke since Tuesday. There’s a bottle in the fridge and I open that refrigerator up, purse my lips in sadness, and move away. The caffeine headaches are a bitch, but they’re getting a little better each day. If I come out of this never drinking diet Coke ever again, I’ll be surprised. If I stop thinking about diet Coke longer than a few hours at a time, I’ll think it’s a miracle.
I miss diet Coke, damn it.
This year, I went into Lent know that I would be giving up another major part of my life. I gave up my religious side of things. I have rites and services scheduled for Sekhmet, of course, and Papa Legba is big on keeping one’s promises. But I’m not doing anything else. This isn’t about the netjeru anymore. This is about my life. So, I gave up my religion, so to speak, to incorporate a religious tradition that doesn’t sit well with me in an effort to better understand myself, my religious practice, and everything in between. I know that kind of sounds weird, right? But there’s something to that adage about letting birds fly free because if it’s meant to be, it’ll come back to you? I’ve always found that when I request a break from the netjeru, then they don’t live up to their end of the bargain for whatever reason. Things get pushed forward, things about the bigger picture usually, and I end up getting sucked in. But not this year, not for these next forty days.
No religion. No diet Coke.
For someone who was pretty big about faith and stuff just two years ago and for someone who was drinking three 20oz bottles of diet Coke a day, well, that’s a lot.
But this is about reflection, introspection. This is about fleshing out a more solid foundation for me, which includes the lwa.
And that, honestly, is something that I only just realized. Papa Legba, Gran Bwa – whomever – they weren’t really wanting me to pay attention to the religious observance, per se. They wanted me to pay attention to me. They wanted me to take care of myself. And part of that includes them. They always get sent to the backseat because there’s always something important going on with the netjeru. And that’s just no good. I’m supposed to be serving them and too often, I find my services lacking because I’m too caught up in shit for Sekhmet, shit for the community, and other miscellaneous horse shit. Last year, I said that it was all about balance, but the last part of the year and the first two months of this year have been everything-Sekhmet. And while I understand the need to push and get me to where I am today, I’ve kind of had it.
I chose Papa Legba as much as he chose me all those years ago.
The least I can do is remember that and act on it and say, “No,” when I need to.
Right now, I’m saying, “no.” I’m saying it to Sekhmet, my religion, my diet Coke.
And I’m reminding myself that foundations are important.
Foundations are always, always important.
And there is no foundation without me.