It’s Lent again: Hooray!
By now, you may be reading the above words with disbelief. There is an ever-present temptation in times of fasting to dread what’s coming. The whole problem of having to be limited to fasting foods, the gastric pain of abstinence, and for all you poor mothers (and fathers) who have to prepare the food, that constantly annoying question of “Whatever am I going to cook tonight? We’re sick of lentils!”
Interestingly, the vegan vegetarian diet we adopt in Lent is meant to hark back to Paradise (did they have lentils in the Garden of Eden???) For of course, before the Fall, Adam and Eve ate no foods that involved the killing or suffering of animals.
The simpler diet is meant to lead us to a simpler lifestyle. Today, the variety of vegan foods available is far greater than it has ever been in history, I think. And yet, we still grumble.
My Confession Father once advised me to consider food and drink as nothing more than petrol for the tank during fasting times. Don’t worry about variety and taste and consistency, and all that stuff. So long as it contains the energy and nutrients you need to go about your daily business, just eat it. I have found that a very useful way to look at fasting food.
It confers the added benefit of independence. It is somehow liberating to be able to genuinely eat whatever food happens to present itself before you at any given time, and be quite content. There is a kind of joy in the victory over your tastebuds: “Aha, little buds! I have you now! No longer will you enslave me with your petty pickiness. I’ll show you … have another mouthful of lentils! Take that! And that!”
You may have noticed by now that I have lentils on the mind. I like lentils. They are small and humble, a poor man’s meal. And yet, with the right seasoning, they can be quite delicious. But they’re really not a Western dish. Many young people find a good bowl of lentils quite hard to stomach. And so they suffer in times like Lent. I sympathise. It took me some time to gain the victory over my stubborn tastebuds.
But then, isn’t that what Lent is all about? To eat like a poor person, that you may feel more empathy for the poor, be moved to help them more, and perhaps appreciate your own daily gifts that much more as well. The traditional great Easter Feast after the Resurrection liturgy is more than just a time for meatballs and turkey! It is a time for renewing old friendships with those chums, it is true. But think of the joy of that reunion. Think of how nice that food tastes, after a separation of 55 days. Well, maybe it’s better not to think too much about that when we’re only a couple of weeks into Lent. But my point is that “absence makes the heart grow fonder”. Through fasting, the joy of food that God created for us is renewed and reinvigorated, and with it, our joy in the Creator of the food Himself. As St Paul says, “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).
So in Lent, we experience the victory of the spirit over the body, and thus approach closer to God. And after Lent is over, we experience the joy that God has written into all His creation, and thus approach closer to God. Each is all the more vivid an experience because of its opposite. Without the contrast, neither would be as powerful in leading us to God. In a simlar way, marriage throws into relief the beauty of the selfless sacrifice of celibacy, and celibacy brings an appreciation of the sacred mystery of marriage.
Lent … and lentils. Hmmm.
I think they were made for each other.