Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The Trappings of Lent

Yesterday was the first day of the Lenten season, in which Catholics and other Christians make personal sacrifices in the anticipation of Easter. For 40 days and 40 nights, the law is on their side. The law of humility, that is. Heee-hee!

Fasting is a major component of most major sects, the idea being that by depriving yourself of sustenance, you are both glorifying your god and enriching the less fortunate. I don't practice this myself, because I eat like an anorexic bird on a normal day. It's not like the money I saved from a week-long fast would help feed someone else, unless it really is true that you can feed a starving child for 20 cents a day. But that just seems so...I don't know...negligent? And I'm certainly not one to abuse an innocent child. So you see, that's why I don't help the less fortunate.

I also eat meat on Fridays. This really sucks for me, because I'm trying to reduce my animal intake for both healthful and political reasons. On the other hand, it's either eat meat on Fridays or be lumped in with the fundamentalist crowd. So it's flesh on Fridays for me. Sometimes you really have to make sacrifices for your principles.

Sidebar--One thing I will never do is eat fish on Fridays, or any other day. I love fish, but only when they're swimming. The smell of fried fish makes me sick to my stomach, and I still have nightmares about a nasty fish-stick incident that caused me to quit fish on the spot when I was nine. And let's face it--fish is meat, okay? To hear most people tell it, fish is in some kind of cop-out limbo food group. I'm with the vegetarians on this one: fish have faces. Go ahead, look them in the eye and tell them they aren't good enough to be meat! Piranhas are always fun for that sort of thing.

Despite not being a serious practitioner of Lent, I try to get into the spirit each year by giving up something. And, usually, that something is smoking. Only through the power of faith and perserverance am I able to keep up such a major sacrifice. And the fact that I don't smoke in the first place helps a great deal. Why burden myself by giving up something that I would actually miss? Just seems like so much unnecessary trouble. And discomfort is the opposite of spiritual wholeness.

Lent helps me in other ways as well. It isn't worth the awkwardness of ordering a chicken sandwich on Fridays: "Would you like some fire sauce with that?!!" This helps cut down on my food and health costs.

Another beauty of Lent is that no one has to know what it is you gave up. Like your faith, this is a very personal decision made ultimately for your own betterment. But mainly, this is a free ticket to get out of anything. Didn't eat your Brussels sprouts? "There're starving people in China and I want to feel their pain." Tired of justifying your desire to crawl in a hole and hibernate? Say you gave the world up for Lent. Want to get out of going to church? Same thing! This cuts down on guilt and thus makes you feel more tolerant of your fellow runners in the human race.

Tolerance and understanding are wonderful concepts that Lent brings to the forefront. After all, everyone in the world knows how much sacrificing sucks. And it isn't just Christians either: when I was in eighth grade, two of my Indian friends (a brother and a sister) went on a fast. They ate virtually nothing for a week, and carried around water bottles all day. Some of our more Caucasian classmates found this amusing, wondering why the siblings would do such a thing. In their minds, what these two needed was to see the light and fast for Jesus instead.

Nothing brings the major religions of the world together like their shared passion for David Blaine-style marathons of deprivation. Also, war.

Giving up war! Can I get an amen on that?


Michael said...

Amen. (To giving up war. I like Lent, myself.

ica said...

have you seriously been investigated? explain. (in my comments)

Murph said...

Are you calling me a fundamentalist because I don't eat meat on Fridays during Lent?

Ian McGibboney said...

Murph, I'm not picking on you or anyone else personally. I've never begrudged anyone for their personal beliefs, because I understand the value people have in them. Indeed, I didn't eat meat on Lenten Fridays myself for a long time, for reasons I may or may not have understood. But as I got older, I realized I was doing it more for other peoples' beliefs than for mine, which is exactly the opposite reason of why you're supposed to make a spiritual sacrifice.

I suppose I use the word "fundamentalist" because it's impossible not to use a loaded term in this case. I know you fall in the wide gap between fanatics and agnostics, Murph; you've said so before. I wish more people like you would speak up and reclaim the religious throne from those who take it to extremes.

ccgirl said...

Why fish are OK...

Church law is written in Latin.
In Latin the thing we are forbidden to eat on Lenten Fridays is carnis. In Latin, carnis means the flesh of warm-blooded, land-dwelling animals.


Nick said...

Eating meat on Fridays just b/c you don't want to be linked to "fundamentalists" is frankly...dumb. You are letting the Christian crowd set your dietary agenda.

Also, saying that you would get a funny look for ordering chicken tenders is quite an exageration. Catholics aren't the only religion or people in south Louisiana. Plenty people eat meat on Fridays during Lent. I do sometimes b/c I forget and end up eating left over pizza or rice & gravy from the night before. Here's hoping in Baptist country of North Mississippi I don't forget tomorrow.

Nick said...

I've actually thought that the no meat on Fridays as a sacrifice in south Louisiana is a bit hypocritical. What's more of a sacrifice? Eating a ham sandwich for dinner or going to Gator Cove and eating 8 pounds of boiled crawfish, which I am guilty of myself.

Ian McGibboney said...

CCgirl, thanks for that. I wasn't aware of that distinction.

Nick, athiest writer Judith Hayes makes the same argument you do about the crawfish in one of her books. She outlines a series of entrees that one could make with seafood and vegetarian food, and makes the point that they're rather gluttonous.

As for the dietary agenda: that's just comic exaggeration. I realize that no one really cares about my dietary choices. However, I've never forgotten one incident in high school that left me feeling strange: one year I was preparing for Rally tests, and I got to leave my regular classes to spend the day studying in the library. This occurred on a Lenten Friday, and one of the foods that was to be available to us was pepperoni pizza. As I was leaving the room, my teacher stopped me and asked, "Are you Catholic?" "No, why?" "Just asking." Then she let me go. I was self-conscious the rest of the day.

But this isn't an anti-Catholic screed. Most of my family is Catholic, and they're all wonderful people. It's basically an anti-fasting one, because I feel that one should always live humbly and not be gluttonous, not just at certain times of the year. It's the same issue I have with Valentine's Day.

Cajun Tiger said...

I totally agree with having HUGE crawfish boils instead of eating meat is no sacrifice at all. I never understood that one bit growing up as a Catholic.

Leah Martin said...

My my this is interesting...