It was early February when I polled my office and asked them what I should give up for Lent. I’ve been out of good ideas for a long time, so I figured I would put the question up to group-think. It was practically unanimous: they chose diet Coke which makes sense. I drink a lot of it. There was one who “courteously abstained” from voting because “Lent is stupid and no one should have to give things up.” I made a polite remark about how I didn’t have much choice about this, and moved on.Diet Coke [again], it is.I suppose it could be worse; it could be something I’ve never given up before. I’ve given up diet Coke, and by that act, drinking soda entirely for forty days. I’m a pretty big bitch about it, too. Diet Coke is my afternoon caffeine intake since I dislike drinking coffee after the sun hits the zenith. (I don’t know why; just don’t.) Thus far, I’ve staved off the caffeine headache by shoving a ridiculous amount of sugar into my gullet, but at least I’m properly hydrated throughout the day for once.A few people at the office seem to think this is the start of me “getting healthy”. This of course means that I would be healthy by their standards, not my own. I know I’m not healthy by any stretch of the imagination (not including mental health in that assessment), but I also find it curious how the conversations always come back to “getting healthy”. It baffles me why they think the person who eats fruits, salad, vegetables, and maintains a calorie count of food intake somehow doesn’t have healthy eating habits, or the ability to manifest them?It merely goes to show that the people who think this is about healthier living don’t understand the purpose. I wouldn’t expect them to; they aren’t Catholic by any stretch of the imagination. And the gentleman who told me giving things up for Lent was stupid has his own preconceived beliefs and notions relative to this.Sometimes, I think it might be better to educate the masses than to politely listen to the ideas that others have about all of this, but then I think, why bother? Nothing I would say would change their point of view [probably]. It would fall on deaf ears and I would continue to have to listen to their own points of view on something that is an experience unto itself and has nothing to do with America’s fatphobia.I suppose I’m just bitter.The purpose of Lent is more than simply giving something up. We are supposed to be giving up vices; faults in ourselves that can negatively impact us. While one may not necessarily see where diet Coke can be a vice, I say that it is. It is a sort of security blanket against
caffeine withdrawal the horrors of the world. Diet Coke doesn’t fail me (although it will with all the plastic that’s probably forming in my brain) the way everything else does.I knew one woman who would give up gambling and swearing every Lenten season. She would come into work on Ash Wednesday with her smudge of ashes and say that she would keep her language clean and her gambling at bay. She managed every year and she would save her gambling money and put it into her rainy day fund. She never completely gave up either vice of hers though; she needed them to get through another lackluster day just as I need diet Coke for the same.But this doesn’t really explain it all because Lent is about way more than simply giving things up. I’ve read up on it numerous times – and blogged about my findings for the last 7 fucking years – but I think it was the book I got for Christmas that helped to kind of solidify it all for me.
Remember that we are but dust and ashes, yet by God’s grace we have died in Baptism and have put on the Lord Jesus Christ. Each year we keep these Forty Days with prayer and penance and the practice of charity so that we may come to the Easter festival ready to renew once more the life-giving commitment of our Baptism.P 93, Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers
May our fasting be hunger for justice;
our alms, a making of peace;
our prayer, the chant of humble and grateful hearts.P 95, Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers
The Church asks us to give ourselves to prayer and to the reading of Scripture, to fasting and to giving alms. The fasting that all do is together on Fridays is but a sign of the daily lenten discipline of individuals and households: fasting for certain periods of time, fasting from certain foods, but also fasting from other things and activities. Likewise, the giving of alms is some effort to share this world equally – not only though the distribution of money, but through the sharing of our time and talents.P 96, Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers
People get hung up on the idea that something must be given up because that’s what forced down everyone’s throats. How many commercials have people seen about businesses offering fish meals on Fridays at a discount rate? I got hit with a blast of ads about it on various social media platforms as well as Hulu. How many articles have been re-posted or written anew about the giving up of things for Lent? Google gave me 110,000 news articles about the act of giving up things for Lent when I asked.But it’s also about the giving of charity; you know that very line item that most people seem to forget has a very specific and very central part to all of this? Alms-giving is as much an integral part of this as the denial of vice. We just don’t hear about that part as much because maybe it doesn’t sound as cool or as weird as the act of denying yourself something that you would really rather keep.And it also requires a focus on your religion. Many people use the time to focus on the reading of Scripture or the focus of prayer. I’ve been getting up in the mornings and trying to say a Hail Mary (I like those). I’m not familiar with the prayer and I stumble over it, but it’s an important part of the Catholic faith and I can remember my grandmother and mother saying Hail Marys when I was a kid. It seemed like a good focus.But for others, they read through the Bible. They choose maybe a book that they’re not as familiar with, or a specific theme throughout the Forty Days to focus on.At the heart of all of this, the purpose of the Forty Days is an act of rebirth, an act of renewal. People deny themselves these things and give things away in an act of public mimicry of Jesus’ 40 Days of Fasting in the Desert. At the end of it all, they are [hopefully] ready for the spiritual rebirth that will [again hopefully] occur as part of the celebrations of Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday.I always wonder how many people feel truly renewed at the end of Lent. It’s always been hit or miss with me.I’m not Catholic and have never been, baptized into the faith though I may have been. I was never confirmed and I don’t see myself going through that. At this point, my Catholic ancestors seem content with dragging me through the processes, directing me to educate myself on what I’m doing and why, and saying the prayers when they want. The veneration of saints has been a recent addition, but it’s here to stay. Besides, who can pass up a good prayer to Saint Anthony when your shit goes missing? (He always comes through.)I don’t go into the renewal aspect looking to renew my Baptism, or to learn more about Jesus. I always look at it from the perspective of my own chaotic attempts at religion. It’s a time of renewal – something that as a Kemetic I am keenly aware of in many ways – and I use it in an effort to do just that.I am hoping to renew my path, renew my desire to learn more outside of what I’ve already established, and maybe even renew my desire to continue forward. It can get really hard to want to be religious when everything seems like such a fucking crawl up the sheerest of mountain faces. But I’d like to renew, like to feel a bit of Zep Tepi during the Forty Days ahead. I’d like to… just remember what it felt like to be happy with what I’ve established at any rate.And hey, maybe I will get with this whole “healthy” business. I doubt it, so don’t assume I’ll succeed, but I’ve been known to surprise even me.
Watching you blog about this topic over the years has taught me that Lent is pretty cool. It makes me want similar practices attached to various heathen holidays, i.e. fasting, peace-making, meditation, gift-giving, charity, etc… food for thoughts, thank you!
Fascinating! I’m not very familiar with Catholicism and I had no idea about the “charity” aspect of Lent. That definitely changes my understanding of Lent a bit.