Today is Ash Wednesday, for those who observe Lent. The fast food places have been leading up to this by advertising their fish sandwiches and shrimp baskets. Sometimes I think non-Lent-observers must think this is International Fish Season.
It’s not about the fish. Here’s my (completely unofficial and totally biased) observations about observing Lent:
- It’s a period of fasting, abstinence and/or discipline for spiritual growth and preparation for Holy Week and Easter. It commemorates the 40 days that Christ spent in the wilderness in fasting and temptation to prepare for His sacrifice.
- Lent starts with Ash Wednesday, when you will be able to tell who is Catholic (or other observing denomination) by the smudge of ashes on their forehead after they go to mass/services that day. (The ashes are a reminder of our mortality, not a membership badge for the Holier Than Thou Club.)
- Some people give up meat for all 40 days, some just one day a week. But fasting is not really about giving up meat; it’s about eating small, simple (meatless) meals all day–enough to keep your body healthy, but not for enjoyment. (Usually people do this just one day a week.)
- Passing up the BBQ for an all you can eat fish fry does not count as fasting.*
- Often people will give up something they really enjoy–something that is a luxury, extravagance or vice. I have given up (not all in the same year): Coke (cola, not blow), meat, video games, the Internet (except one email check a day), television, bread, chocolate, desert, and coffee (the longest 40 days of my life).
- The flip side of that is adding a discipline, like daily prayer or going to mass every week (if you’re not good about that, which… I’m not), or volunteer work.
- Working to improve your hand-eye coordination by playing Rock Band does not count as self-improvement.
Lent is not a ‘diet’ but a sacrifice. Every time I pass up something I love, I think about how lucky I am to have it, and how others are less fortunate.** It’s not about how strong my willpower is, but (for me) a reminder how much I have been given, and how I should not waste it on self-interest, but use it to make the world a better place (even if it’s just with my books).
Even if you don’t observe Lent (or Christianity), we have a tendency as a culture to take non-essentials for granted. My cell phone has become indispensable to me–but even I have to admit that the games and apps are a complete luxury. All that I really NEED is for my family to be able to reach me in an emergency.
This year I’m giving up “empty” carbohydrates: White bread, white rice, white sugar… which means muffins, scones, pastry, cake, cookies and yes, pancakes. Basically the stuff that’s luxury, not nutritious. This is going to be hard, because I love pastry more than chocolate.
What luxury or extravagance would be hard for YOU to give up?
* The (completely illogical) “fish doesn’t equal meat” thing is more about tradition than biology. I think it’s a cold-blooded/warm-blooded thing.
** I also think about Christ’s suffering and God’s grace, but I try to avoid religiosity in this blog. Um, despite this whole post being about a religious observance.