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  • Writer's pictureKatie Davis-Crowder

Rolling Down the Hill


During Holy Week 2021, I participated from a distance in my parish’s annual Stations of the Cross service. Afterwards, I found myself both grateful and achy. How is the world still like this? I missed my people. So I decided to take my daily lake walk and listen to Jesus Christ Superstar, naturally. I paused at my favorite spot near the Madonna della Strada Chapel on Loyola Chicago’s Lake Shore Campus and gazed at the sparkling blue.


As I took in my surroundings, waves crashing, birds swooping, I noticed in my peripheral vision a little girl enthusiastically rolling down the small hill in front of a nearby campus building. Fearless and cackling, she would roll down the hill, arrive at the bottom, and immediately spring up to do it all over again. Freedom. Utter and complete freedom.


Then, an even smaller girl appeared, looking on at the rolling one with admiration and wonder. I watched something click in her brain. Wait a minute, she seemed to think. If she can let herself roll down this hill, maybe I can too. And down she rolled, proud and giggling. Freedom. Utter and complete freedom.

Finally, a woman who could only be their mother approached, watching this moment and beaming. Bearing witness to utter and complete freedom. Delighting in her daughters’ freedom to roll.

And I, sitting by the lake on this not-so-good, yet so good Good Friday, couldn’t help but cry. The Spirit was moving.


As Ash Wednesday greets us once again, I recall this story: the little girl rolling, the smaller girl empowered by her older sister’s example, the mother’s delight. And the word that keeps coming up for me is freedom.


Aware that this was a four-minute moment in time…aware that most of this experience was unconscious, and perhaps even forgettable for our main characters…I can’t help but wonder…


What might our first little hill-roller have been free from?


Free from self-consciousness

Free from having to be “too cool”

Free from insecurity or indecision

Free from shame.


And therefore, what was she free for?


Free for adventure

Free for embodiment

Free for joy

Free for connection with nature

Free for self-trust

Free for freeing others.

How about the younger sister? What could she have been free from?


Free from comparison

Free from worry that she would be the only one

Free from concern or regret that she hadn’t rolled earlier

Free from scarcity - there’s plenty of room for both of us to roll here!

And therefore, what was she free for?


Free for adventure

Free for embodiment

Free for joy

Free for connection with nature

Free for self-trust

Free for freeing others in the future.

Finally, the mama, beaming with pride, with amusement, with delight—isn’t that how God looks at us when we are living in freedom?


Freedom from and freedom for. In my view, this is what the practice of fasting—the most fraught Lenten tradition, in my view—is all about.


As we seek to deepen our relationship with God this Ash Wednesday and throughout Lent, what might we need to be free from, so we can become free for the abundant life we celebrate at Easter?


To explore this idea, my pal St. Ignatius used the language of “indifference.” When Ignatius spoke of indifference, he didn’t mean it the way we’re used to, indifference as not being passionate about much, not caring deeply about ideas, people, or experiences. “It’s whatever.”

I love Dr. Marina McCoy’s definition of Ignatian indifference. She writes, “Ignatian indifference is the capacity to let go of what doesn’t help me to love God or others—while staying engaged with what does.”


At the beginning of his Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius articulates his mission statement. At its core, life is about praising, loving, and serving God. If these aims—praising, loving, and serving God—are at the center of our lives, then we need to be aware of relating with all our other hungers accordingly.


Let me be clear: neither God nor Ignatius discourages us from being hungry for life and love! Rather, since everyone and everything are gifts from God, Ignatius challenges us to hold our loves with open, grateful hands. Our hungers, our loves are not ends in and of themselves; they are all part of God’s love story with us and the world. Love invites us to walk the terrible, beautiful tightrope of cherishing, but not clinging to whom and what we love.


So what might this idea of Ignatian indifference—freedom from and freedom for—offer us as we consider fasting this Lenten season? Through the lens of indifference, we see that fasting is not really about deprivation at all. Our God does not want us to starve, literally or figuratively! On the contrary, our truest, deepest hungers and God’s desires for us are the same. If we believe in a God who wants us to live fully—and I do—then all our fasting must be in service of that fullness.


A word of caution from one who knows: Lent can be a tricky and even dangerous time for those of us who have struggled with body stuff (and honestly, who hasn’t?). If you are considering fasting from a particular food item or group, I am so with you in feeling that natural draw. Maybe together, though, we might ask ourselves where that impulse is coming from. Are we rooted in the desire for freedom from/freedom for, or is there something else at play?


What if this Lent, we tried to identify and practice fasting from one of our unfreedoms—one of those patterns, habits, ways of relating or numbing or hiding that separate us—so we can be free for the ones that connect us instead? What if we said no this Lent, not for its own sake, and not because someone else thinks we should, but so we can make room for a deeper yes?

 

Katie Davis-Crowder, MDiv, is a Chicago-based teacher, spiritual director, singer, writer, and presenter rooted in the Mercy and Ignatian traditions. She is passionate about spirituality, social justice, and the arts, and loves building home with her partner Kevin and pup Smartie. katiedaviscrowder.com

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