I am not Catholic, but often find myself at a Friday morning mass looking for peace or some word…mostly, to be close to my Grandma, who has lived in heaven for some time. I carry her little pink rosary when I go– it’s like a talisman against all my doubts and fear. When I start panicking that “Omg, I’m in church! I don’t know if I even believe in God!,” I run my fingers over the tiny pink beads and the face of the Blessed Virgin, and hear Grandma’s voice telling me to just sit. Be quiet. Escucha a tu Corazon…Listen to your heart.

I had spent much of this week convinced of some personal failures; failures of such magnitude that they threatened to sink my ship. The waves crashed so continually over the helm and over my head that I couldn’t catch my breath. In the great Catholic/Baptist tradition that I was raised in, I owned those failures, and castigated myself continually until my heart was a raw wound. On a side note, I think I missed my life calling as a flagellant – I would have been really good at mortifying my own flesh to atone for every perceived failing.

So, it seemed appropriate to attend mass during Lent, where an emphasis on penance is paramount. “Now, THIS,” I thought, “I can get on board with.” After all, I hadn’t showered for a couple of days and would fit right in with all of the other failed humans. (Yes, I can get a little bit dramatic at times.)

Well, guess what. God had other ideas. I’ll just mention right now that Catholic mass is never very exciting or emotional, which is precisely why it appeals to me. It’s very quiet and ritualistic, which is what makes my burning-bush moment even more amazing. The reading was from Isaiah. I’ll cut and paste and highlight to point out the relevant words:

“Is it a fast like this which I choose..is it for bowing one’s head like a reed and for spreading out sackcloth and ashes as a bed? Will you call this…an acceptable day to the Lord?

 [in contrast…] Is this not the fast which I choose, to loosen the bonds of wickedness…to let the oppressed go free..is it not to divide your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into the house; when you see the naked, to cover him…

 Then your light will break out like the dawn and your recovery will speedily spring forth…

 And if you give yourself to the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in darkness and your gloom will become like the midday.

 And the Lord will continually guide you and satisfy your desire in scorched places and give strength to your bones…” – bits and pieces of Isaiah 58:5-10

So here’s the thing. God (?…I’m still technically agnostic for what that’s worth…) was telling me in that moment to get my shit together. It’s not doing anyone any good to sit around in sackcloth, castigating myself for my failings and weaknesses. In a way, I kind of think He was saying to get up, shower, put on some lipstick and GET ON WITH IT. Yes, I’ve failed. No, I’m not perfect. No, the world is not perfect. But the longer I spend focused on the negative, the less time and energy I have to create positive change.

I was lying in sackcloth and ashes in a bed of my own making. I was miserable. I started by taking a shower and combing my hair, to the joy of those around me. And today, each minute, I will make a choice to feed the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, starting with feeding my own heart. My light will rise in darkness and my gloom is already starting to resemble the midday.

And, hey Grandma, thank you.