Lent 2020: C’est Fini.

When I was a kid, I remember Lent being like every other time of the year. We went to church on Sundays but there was none of that giving things up or eating fish on Fridays. Of course, my mom had left Catholicism behind by then so that may be why we never did any of the traditional trappings of Lent.

I wonder now if my mom missed it. If there was a part of her who desperately wanted to turn back to the religion of her youth to pay homage in some form or way during one of the most common expressions of Catholic devotion. Based on comments she had made to me over the years, I doubt it. She had made her peace with leaving Catholicism and while she still reached out to the saints and said three Hail Marys before a trip, it wasn’t something she wanted back in her life.

I can understand that.

So It Begins

Every year, I have an ongoing debate with myself about whether or not I will be observing Lent. It’s not really my thing, per se, and while I desperately want to honor my ancestors in an expression they prefer, it’s asking a lot. I not only have to give things up but step up the game each year to ensure that I understand the overall point of what I’m doing. The ancestors don’t always win the argument – I didn’t actively do anything last year – but they tend to be really pushy about it until I make a decision.

This year, I figured I may as well. It wasn’t like I was doing anything worthwhile and I tend to use the forty days as a time of reflection. I never know where my thoughts are going to take me and it’s kind of nice sometimes to find a single thread woven through the season of Lent to the finish line. Other times, I feel worn out and cranky, ready to throw my hands up in frustration and irritation when it’s over.

When I agreed to observe Lent this year, the ancestors had two additional requirements for this year. I needed to find myself a rosary with a crucifix attached and a Bible. I said no but one early February day found me running errands for what they had requested. The Bible I found had a soft cover and I wound up with a St. Francis medal in addition to the rosary. They didn’t say why these things were requested; just that they were needed. I set them all up in an altar area after reading that some Catholics set up a little prayer space with their family Bible for Lent.

I gave up diet Coke for Lent. I had gotten the two requested items for my ancestors. For myself, I set up a pretty little area to hold all of these so I had a single place to practice my Hail Marys every morning for memorization. I was almost looking forward to this Lenten season. I had high hopes at any rate.

My Lenten altar space.

The Middle of the Road

Caffeine headaches are no joke. They started almost immediately and I was hating it. I tried other caffeine substitutes but wound up giving up on them eventually too. They didn’t have the same pizazz as diet Coke and they didn’t stave off the caffeine headaches very well. I remember someone telling me that one way to give caffeine up is to take a can of regular Coke and pound it down. I thought about trying this but stayed away from all sodas instead.

My diet suffered at first because I was shoving horrifying amounts of sugar down my throat to hide from the caffeine headaches. I started carefully cutting back, making sure to stick to the fruits and salad snacks I was used to. I had moderate success in that arena. But I stuck to my guns on Fridays, only eating fish for lunch and dinner. My husband and son hated it since they despise seafood; they’d eat burgers on Fridays and bitch about the seafood smell that lingered in the air each Friday night.

I practiced the Hail Mary every day after I had written down my daily Tarot card interpretation in my Tarot journal. I got really good at it and was almost able to memorize it by the second week. I’d forget the line “the Lord is with thee” or “Holy Mary, mother of God” depending on the day. Eventually it stuck. I was pretty thrilled when I got it right on the first try for the first time. My memory gets worse each year but I find it soothing that this prayer that my ancestors whispered frequently enough is now something that I, too, can say by memory.

A week and a half in, the pandemic really exploded. School was effectively canceled and while I was still in the office that first week, running things basically solo, I wondered how this would impact Lent for me. It didn’t, jokes from the husband about Lent never ending now not withstanding. I was more easily able to moderate my sugar intake. And on the days where it was warmer, I went for a walk after dinner to watch how my neighborhood reacted to the social distancing requirement and was blasted with news about what places were shutting down each day.

I wonder how the Catholics of my local parish reacted when the priest began posting videos of services on You Tube. They continued to post quotes and messages on their Facebook page – really positive and nice things that I appreciated myself – and lamented the inability to meet with the parish family during the season of Lent. I, of course, was mostly unaffected since I never intended on going to Church during Lent. That may change in the future, but not this year.

I felt a little lost when the pandemic started. I was still doing what I said I would but it was like… it felt a little like everything was slipping away even though that isn’t really true. I tossed myself into exploring others’ Lenten devotions. I was hoping to find something, anything really, which would help me to feel connected to it all still.

I found some interesting things but it was mostly selfies of Catholics from “happier” Lenten times or some positive motivational quotes. Boring. Boring. Not for me. Not what I was looking for. Not what I needed. It took me no time at all to begin obsessing over what new Lenten devotion Ms. Dirty would post, amazed at how I could just feel how she must have felt as she went through each moment. I was breathless and said to myself often: I want that; that’s where I need to go from here.

It was after one of her posts that I began writing the brunt of my post on Ra. I’m not saying her post had much to do with my reflective thoughts on him, but I could see a similarity between what she seems to be doing as part of her religious path and what I am doing as part of this newly found one. I can… I don’t want to say “see” because it’s not a vision, but I can… sense where things are going for me and part of it entails a very similar evocative practice as that espoused by Ms. Dirty.

Perhaps one day, I’ll finally get to that practice and maybe, just maybe, my posts on said practice will resonate with people.

Beyond giving things up and wanting to feel connected and desiring the ability to have an evocative practice, Lent is about alms-giving. I don’t have spare change to give out much anymore, but in years past, I would donate money to causes that spoke to me on each Friday of the Lenten season. This year, I combed my house for things to give to the Good Will once Lent was up.

I have a very large box of things and two bags of clothes to donate, but I don’t dare donate them now. I’m going have to wash everything once this quarantine business is all over so that I can give it away, knowing that I’ve ensured the items to be good and ready for a new home. I’m hoping next year that I can do likewise, but maybe with a few charity alms interspersed. I guess we’ll see.

The End

Whether I observe Lent or not, I am acutely aware of the timing if it. I always know when it will end and usually, around mid-Lent, I get the feeling it’s time to book an appointment to donate blood. I do this every year on Good Friday. It’s an homage to my grandfather who was big on donating blood. I’ve gone every Good Friday since this Lenten thing began for me to a little local church that has provided space for the local Red Cross chapter.

Except for this year.

I’m still getting the emails and sometimes the texts from the Red Cross alerting me that my blood donation is needed. But with the pandemic still in full swing, I couldn’t go. I don’t have the ability to buy or make a face mask and I couldn’t chance it. And now that the Red Cross has stopped its Blood Mobile travels this year, this means my yearly appointments will have to take place a half hour away instead of right down the street.

I told my grandfather that I was sorry I couldn’t go this year. Assured him that I would make an appointment once quarantine let’s up again. I was… devastated frankly at the idea that my one ritual of most importance [to me] could not be observed.

And in someone else’s voice he assured me that the health and wellbeing of myself and my family is far more important right now than my homage to him. I could feel his love shining to me through that message and while guilt gnaws at me still a bit, I’ve come to accept it at least.

The second ending ritual for Lent in my world is a gift to myself for seeing through the entire 40 days of Lent. Obviously, this only occurs when I’m successful and I can admit that while giving up diet Coke may sound easy, it wasn’t. I still haven’t had a single fucking sip and I’m still bitchy about it.

I usually look for something early on so I have it in my mind’s eye. A sort of carrot on a string to pull me along the next forty days. This year, I couldn’t really find anything that I thought met the bill of “a gift for not giving up”. I perused my various “I want” lists over and over again but nothing really spoke to me. I went into Lent without an image of anything in my mind and came through three quarters of the season without anything, so maybe I don’t need that dangling carrot anymore. Or maybe, I just didn’t need it this year.

I was really just messing around a few weeks after the shelter-at-home orders went out when I looked up “mourning ring” on Etsy. I like mourning jewelry, so why not? I ended up finding a replica mourning ring within the first two seconds of my search that said, “I’m your gift. And I’m going to come home to you.” And that ring, that beautiful damn ring, stayed frozen as a pretty little picture in my mind up until the evening of Good Friday when I finally bought it.

Usually, my gifts are intrinsically tied to me, but this one is definitely tied to the ancestors. It speaks to me of them and whispers their names in my ear. Looking down upon it sitting happily on my finger, I can feel the connection between us.

The mourning ring being purified by incense.

This year, Lent was a lot of things. It was short and sweet (time has no meaning really right now but my personal relationship with relativity says it was fast). It had fewer candle led whispers and rituals than I had originally planned for. It had more jokes and stories between my husband and I. It had a lot more seafood than I am used to and it had a lot less feeling of connection to anyone or anything than I usually do.

To end this entry, I’m going to retell a story the husband told me shortly after he told me that Lent will never end since the Pope closed down the Catholic churches, which means that Holy Week and Easter is canceled.

I was talking with one of the old-timers at the club and he mentioned that he was giving up the usual things for Lent. I asked him what was the worst thing he gave up and he said, without thinking about it, “potatoes. I give up drinking and smoking and gambling every year without missing any of it, but potatoes was the hardest. You don’t realize how much food is made from potatoes until you can’t eat any.” I looked at the old-timer, trying to figure out how many side dishes I ate every week that had potatoes in them and nodded. “Yeah,” I said. “Yeah I can see that.”

Lent 2020.

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

Also…

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

And finally…

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.