Why Do People Fast for Lent? (a view from Vox)
As the first full week of Lent comes to a close, I thought I would talk about some of the difficulty I’ve been having during this year’s time of reflection. It really has been a struggle to find what I want to make of this Lenten season.
On Sunday last, I finally decided, after four days that I would give up bread for Lent. Not all bread products, but the delicious, soft, warm, fluffy bread. Then on Monday at my friend’s funeral reception, I ate a roll. It was not unintentional. I wanted the roll, and I took one. I probably would have had two, but since I knew that I had succumbed I didn’t want to compound my misstep. I do plan on going to confession on Saturday, and I plan on abstaining from bread for the rest of Lent.
I could not decide on what would be a meaningful fast. Everything seemed hollow and superficial. I thought of the other items I’d given up for Lent in the past: diet Coke, ice cream, and McDonald’s breakfast burritos. For some reason, I feel like chocolate should also be on that list, but I don’t recall actually giving it up. Perhaps it was on the list of options in the past.
Should I give up all three?
No, that would be crazy, and near nigh impossible. The abstention is supposed to be thoughtful and somewhat difficult, but I don’t think it’s supposed to be impossible.
I finally decided on bread for a few reasons:
1. I eat way too much bread. [But it’s sooooo good.]
2. My doctor wants me to eliminate bread and sugar and empty calories from my diet. I did this for three months last year and I lost almost thirty pounds. Then, I got lazy, gained it all back, and then some, and I feel much more crappy.
3. Bread would be not impossilbe, but it would also be challenging, and the benefit at the end of forty days would be both physical and spiritual.
So, bread it is.
I am also adding to my Lenten “diet”.
1. I’m returning to the 9am daily mass when I don’t have a prior commitment. On the other two days, I’m planning tea and meditation and/or prayer.
2. I’m keeping a Lenten journal.
3. I’m speaking out, but trying to do so in a more diplomatic way.
4. I’m finding me, and being me more often.
5. Prayer, fast, alms. I’m thinking more about the particulars of Lent, and how to carry Lent throughout my year.
I am also reading Not By Bread Alone. It is a reflection book very much like the Advent one I liked so much.
I am going to try and cook one meal a week. I have been poorly disposed to cooking for quite a while now. Some of it is depression, and some of it is that I haven’t done it in so long, it feels weird to start again.
I have many retreats/workshops, mainly at the Dominican Retreat Center that give me so much spiritually and through fellowship with others.
I’m less self-conscious about discussing my differences with many of the Catholics I know. I talk about growing up Jewish, which not everyone knows, but it really relates to who I am today, and how I approach my Catholicism. I talk about my feminism without as much embarrassment as I used to have. I defend Hillary Clinton and the Democrats, diplomatically. I embrace my allyship of LGBT, especially youth and trans people who need more allies. I accept and embrace my thoughts and beliefs on reproductive rights, even where it diverges from doctrine.
As a funny way to end these thoughts of Lent, as a Jewish person, and yes, I still consider myself to be Jewish as much as I’m Catholic, I find it funny the dietary rules of Lent as compared to Yom Kippur. During the twenty-four hours of Yom Kippur, our fast was no food or drink, and typically most adults would spend the entire day in temple in prayer. I would only take water with my medicine and I only ate when I was pregnant. But Lent…you only fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and you abstain from meat on those days as well as all of the Fridays in Lent. But only if you are under 59. And a Catholic fast is one normal sized meal, but as many as two small meals with no in between meal snacking. I think water is acceptable throughout the day. This seems so easy to my Jewish mind.
I also know that it’s the thought that counts, so while I am partaking in these fasts and abstentions, I am reading and reflecting, meditating and contemplating, and drawing closer to G-d without all the hub-bub of food getting in the way.
Lent is a slow down to discern what is important, and to set goals for the rest of the year after the celebration of Easter.
This is only the beginning of the time in the desert, but it is not a trudge, but a slow pace to get to the other side better than before, and the first steps have been taken.
May your fast be easy.