Friday, February 27, 2009

Offering up Winter

Yesterday in Milwaukee we had over a half inch of rain. Last night the temperatures fell to below freezing. This morning I had to scrape ice off the windshield and windows of my car in order to drive to work. What a pain!...especially as the wind blew.

A few years ago I wrote a piece that appeared in the magazine Jesuit Journeys. The title of it was "Winter antidote--offer it up!" That article comes back to haunt me on mornings like today. It's easy to write about offering something up when you're inside, cozy and warm. It's another thing altogether when you're out in the cold trying to get ice off the car.

I pulled out a copy of the article to see what I wrote. Here's part of it:

Isn't winter, in the end, just one big pain? Yes, pain is part of it. It's an inevitable part of it. But when face with pain we have a choice. We can let it bring us down or we can lift it up.

The Lakota Sioux have a purification ritual called the "Inipi." One enters a sweat lodge to endure painful and stifling heat. The discomfort and pain are offered up as a prayer which is made more powerful by this physical suffering. One prays not only with one's mind, but with one's body.

"Offer it up!" In my Catholic grade school days, we often heard this advice. Whenever we encountered frustration, inconvenience, or pain, we were told to "offer it up." There is a deep spiritual instinct that crosses all religious traditions to offer our pain as a prayer. The Apostleship of Prayer encourages people to pray a "Morning Offering" in which we offer to God all our "prayers, works, joys, and sufferings" of the day. The first three are relatively easy to offer. Sufferings are not. I generally avoid them, and when they inevitably come my way I tend to ask God to take them away. I forget to use them as a prayer, to offer them up in union with that offering on a cross by which the world was saved.

Does that mean I now look forward to the pain of a Wisconsin winter? No. But it has lost some of its negavie dimension. It gives me an opportunity to take the pain and offer it as a prayer for others.

Having written that about four years ago, I am convicted every time I complain about the cold. And I'm challenged to practice what I preach. I'm glad I only have to do this one day at a time.

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