Monday, April 10, 2017

The Fuller Brush Man and the Lenten Journey

When I was young the summers seemed longer and we spent most of our time outside visiting with the neighbors and doing a whole lot of nothing. Occasionally something really exciting would happen; the Fuller Brush man would come. His visits were not scheduled but nobody seemed to mind. My mother was the most friendly and generous person.  She and I (and my siblings and neighbors) would sit down and enthusiastically look at all the cool gadgets and gizmos he had in his attaché case. I particularly liked the hairbrushes. He was a masterful salesperson displaying the items with pride and explaining how they would make our lives better. My mother would occasionally make a purchase but not always. Regardless, neither party considered the visit a waste of time. It was always mutually enjoyable and we’d look forward to the next.

My mother’s openness to others influenced me greatly. In reflecting, I see now that she was the living example of the scripture passage from Philippians where St. Paul teaches; Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as more important than yourself. (Phil 2: 3)

I miss my Mom. I miss those days. Life was less hectic. In my memory, people were calmer and friendlier. Whether this is true or not is hard to tell but the desire to recapture the feeling is real. The world today feels different. The market place has changed drastically; in some ways for the better but not in all ways. Unlike days gone by, buying and selling in our modern economy is often mediated by a device of some sort. We live in a constructed world of “convenience”. But it’s not nearly as much fun. In many ways, relationships have been replaced with computers.

My mother’s example taught me to honor the energy of God found in creation and in each person who is a little eternity and a mystery to be discovered. She showed me that relationship is truly the central theme of our Christian faith. We profess belief in the Holy Trinity; that God is essentially a quality of relationship itself, an event of communion. Our journey as disciples is a journey to a fuller realization of life in the Trinity and what it means to be a part of that boundless movement that continuously calls us forth and draws us back in an infinite exchange of mutual love. It is a life of giving and receiving between participants equal in all aspects, a reciprocity of needs and gifts.

Journeys are filled with the unknown and require faith. Journeys are exciting and mysterious but often risky, demanding and uncomfortable. If we are open, our journey can take us to what Pope Francis refers to as the “existential peripheries”; to people and places that are out of our normal routines or control but stretch us beyond our comfort zones.  Each new encounter with another person is certainly inherent with risk. But inherent also is the potential for blessing. We don’t know until we try.

I decided to make Lent 2017 a season to honor “the other”; to make a thoughtful effort to be more like my Mom. One way to do this was to form new habits in my relationship to the market place and its modern conveniences which make it possible to do business without any face to face communication with a person. Today’s market economy encourages us to pay at the pump, self-check at the grocery store, use mobile deposits, drive up to the ATM machine, take advantage of post office kiosks, order online, etc. We are told that these conveniences will save us time and energy but I can’t help but wonder if they don’t unintentionally contribute to loneliness and isolation. What once were natural and comfortable exchanges between individuals now seem awkward and almost abnormal. Our collective psyche is being molded to consider the other not so much as gift but more as a problem to be avoided. If the Fuller Brush man appeared today, I’m sorry to say that my reception would probably not be as it was years ago. I’ve been swept into the “too busy” way of thinking. I don’t believe this is the person my mother raised me to be.

These past six weeks I have been “fasting” from these conveniences and since embarking on this Lenten fast, I’ve called more people by name, offered gratitude more frequently, smiled more often and reassured others on a job well done; all forms of blessing. I have deliberately chosen to take extra time and go out of my way, but I must admit, I’ve experienced a profound sense of happiness. Yes, I’ve had short tempered attendants and fought my own impatience, but my decision to see the other with new eyes has allowed me to be disturbed less easily and to pay attention to the preferences and demands I make as a consumer.

The Law of Karma states that what we put out into the universe comes back to us. What we do to another, we do to ourselves. Simple really. I’m learning it is possible to recapture that feeling of a calmer and friendlier world. I just need to seek community over immunity and breath out what I desire to breathe in.

Happy Easter!

Mary Garlow