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Kaya OakesFebruary 28, 2023
Photo from Unsplash.

A Reflection for Tuesday of the First Week of Lent

Find today’s readings here.

Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Mt 6:8)

Back in 2014, I did an onstage conversation event about writing with the author and former PBS commentator Richard Rodriguez to benefit a local bookstore and community center in Oakland, Calif., Sagrada Sacred Arts. My memory of the event is a bit of a blur since I was a little starstruck and nervous to talk to someone whose writing I have long admired, but once we got going, we had an easy exchange. As a gay Catholic, Rodriguez has long had to think about how he merges his faith with his identity. As a feminist Catholic, I’ve had to do the same. We found that we had much in common.

But I was surprised when Rodriguez asked me a question, since I was supposed to be the interviewer for the event. He paused at one point and said, “do you pray as you write?” I’d honestly never thought about this and made some kind of joke, like I pray to make my deadlines (this is actually true; the patron saint of journalists is St. Francis de Sales, and I’ve bugged him more than a few times). Writing is my job, along with teaching writing. Writing is not a case of sitting here at my laptop with God pouring ideas into my brain, but more the tedium of research and transcription and revision coupled with moments of startling revelation when I realize I’ve written something that might actually help someone.

By the time we get around to prayer, God is already aware of our pain, our longings, dissatisfactions and fears.

But prayer, which we so easily overcomplicate and overthink, is actually simple. By the time we get around to it, God is already aware of our pain, our longings, dissatisfactions and fears. St. Augustine wrote that we use words when we pray as a way of considering what we are asking from God, but the prayer that Jesus gave us is also a way of considering what God asks from us. In the petitions that make up the Lord’s Prayer, what we ask from God is forgiveness. Forgiveness for not slowing down, forgiveness for not tending to others, forgiveness for getting caught up in our own heads, which is the cardinal sin of writers.

Do I pray as I write? Does anyone? If Jesus tells us that words are prayers, then all writing is prayer, but so is all conversation that brings us closer to one another, all of our fumbling apologies after arguments or petty slights, all of our clumsy attempts to tell people we care for them and love them, and all of the unspoken words we carry in our hearts.

Get to know Kaya Oakes, contributing writer

What are you giving up for Lent?

Years ago a Jesuit spiritual director told me that instead of focusing on giving something up for Lent just for the sake of giving something up, it was better to focus on adding something that enhanced your spiritual life, like adding more charitable giving, praying for a special intention, or volunteering. This year I’ll be adding more to my usual donations. I try to focus on charities who do actionable work in my local community, so this year I’ll be increasing my donations to the Oakland LGBTQ Center, which runs a food pantry, a health clinic, a senior center and is starting a youth center.

Do you cheat on Sundays?

Who doesn’t? (looks around nervously)

Favorite non-meat recipe

I don’t eat meat most days so I cook a lot of tofu and beans. Lately it’s been cold here which is a great excuse to make a spicy vegetarian chili or baked tofu with gochujang sauce.

Favorite Easter artwork

This might not officially count as Easter art but the Wim Wenders movie Wings of Desire, about what happens when a very grumpy angel decides to give up his immortality, is one of my favorites.

More: Scripture

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