Stumbling Through Lent: I Cling, Therefore I Am

As I continue my rocky spiritual journey through Lent, I notice that I am still, as always, seriously guilty of what the Buddhists call clinging. Westerners might call it greed, getting attached to the temporal and earthly at the expensive of things eternal and divine. Greedy clinging is not good for you, wise folks of every tradition will tell you. It'll make you suffer.

Of course, we do it anyway, our best intentions notwithstanding. We cling. We cling to stuff. We cling to moments in time. A couple summers ago while vacationing on one of the woodsy, marshy, rocky San Juan Islands in the Pacific Northwest, I found lots to get greedy about.

San Juan Islands. Photo by Barbara Newhall

There I was, out in the woods, my favorite place to be. And once again I was wielding my trusty point-and-shoot camera, hoping that by taking photos of every lovely thing that came along I could make this moment last. Make it indelible. Make it permanent. Later, back home, I downloaded the photos and scoured the Internet for the names of the plants and animals I'd digitally captured. I gave each photo a label.

I clung, for example, to the the local flora: Rotting logs coated with moss. Granite boulders painted orange with sunburst lichen. Slimy strands of kelp tossed ashore to dry on the beach. Tall stands of fireweed waving pink-to-purple blossoms in my face. Eagles nesting overhead, their scat splattered across my path, fertilizing the bunchberry.

Pickleweed. Photo by Barbara Newhall

The truth is, of course, nothing lasts. Especially not four days spent in a cabin in the woods with friends. Like it or not, we have to move on. There's always a plane to catch, a deadline to meet, someplace to be. You can't sit on this fallen tree trunk indefinitely, stroking the furry moss growing out of its rot. And, no, you can't keep wading into the pickle grass, or walking around and around that same patch of fireweed studying the petals as their colors shift in the sunlight from pink to violet and back to pink.

Fireweed. Photo by Barbara Newhall

But you can take photos. That's one way to hang on to the moment. Also, it helps to get the names of things. Name a thing and you've pinned it to your brain; it doesn't slip off into oblivion quite so fast.

But it was getting dark. It was dinner time. People would be setting the table soon. It was time to let go of this moment and move on to the next. A pretty good moment was on its way, come to think of it. It was going to involve a glass of wine and a pot of fish stew.

But the blazing moment with the pickle grass was over. No two ways about it.

© 2016 Barbara Falconer Newhall. All rights reserved.

A version of this essay first appeared on, where Barbara riffs on life, family, books, writing, and her rocky spiritual journey. Her interfaith book, "Wrestling with God: Stories of Doubt and Faith," is available from Patheos Press.