I used to have a piece of calligraphy on my fridge, given to me by my friend Laura. It said "Enough is a Feast." It always made me stop and think before I opened the fridge. Well, usually anyway.
This quote came back to me yesterday, on the first day of Lent. This year was different than last, in many ways. For one, I spent Shrove Tuesday (the night before the season of Lent begins) as Mardi Gras this year. That’s French for “Fat Tuesday.” There were no St. Margaret’s pancakes for me this year. Instead, only some wobbly jello-shooters and cheesy decorations.
There’s something about nights of “forced partying” that really bug me. Of course, I often partake of New Years’ Eve festivities, birthdays, and other celebrations—they are part of our shared humanity. So I guess I’m torn on the issue. I’ve never really celebrated Mardi Gras until last year, where I flipped pancakes for about 2 hours, and then went out dancing at the Die Maschine (in Winnipeg) afterwards, reeking of grease. It was a strange experiencing both versions of the pre-Lenten festivities. The Church's and the culture's. In a basement in Wolseley there were a bunch of people chowing down on fat and carbs. Laughing and talking and joking. Later at the bar there were line-ups of people downing rums and whiskeys and ales, laughing and talking and dancing. They were both wonderful celebrations of being alive, but because we don't have to deal with scarcity, perhaps we can't possibly appreciate true abundance.
I didn’t start observing Lent until a few years ago. This was a gift later given to me by the Anglican tradition, my doorway into the widely-observed Church Year. Up until then, Easter would come upon us like a great storm, startling us like a loud clap of thunder, unintroduced. All of a sudden there would be food and lacy dresses and hats. Chocolate and hunts and bunnies and bustling grandmothers. It was all so wonderful and fresh, different than Christmas in its sunny promises, smelling of rich earth and lilies.
But what is feasting without fasting? What is celebration of life without the mourning of death? How can we know love without loneliness? Fullness without emptiness? The opposite of hallelujah is an interesting though. Thanks to Swedish musician Jens Lekman for that one.
I want to give something up this year. I really do. I have never done it successfully, and I believe it’s important to fully grasping the solemnity of the death of Christ. I mean, if we can’t take forty days out of our year to sit with the emptiness he felt in the dessert, the horrible paradox of his humanity and divinity, what does that say about us? If only to fully understand our own humanity, perhaps Lent can focus us away from the material by highlighting our very reliance on the material. We are both material and spiritual beings. We grasp at the things of this world-- carved in wood, etched in stone, housed in barrels--so that we can begin to seek out our own identities. We also cling to the non-material, relationships, memories, our ideas of self and God. And we do things like write and fling paint at canvas and run marathons and cook dinners, all in order to understand. To dream a little more of what it might mean to be human.
“We are a species that needs and wants to understand who we are. Sheep lice do not seem to share this longing, which is one reason they write so very little.” –Anne Lamott.
I’ve been struggling with what to give up. What would have the most profound effect on me? I’ve heard of everything from chocolate to alcohol fasts, to “negative self-image” fasts. The problem is, I don’t know if anything’s really THAT important to me, enough so that I’d actually notice its absence. I could go 40 days without meat, no problem. Same with chocolate. The only item of consumption I can’t imagine living without is coffee. I guess that makes it the perfect candidate for a fast. I don’t like that string of logic very much at all.
It is amazing how quickly the excuses come flying in: “But coffee helps you write.” “It’s been given to us for our pleasure by God!” “Why deny what you love.” "Oh you're not really addicted to it." And on and on and on.
I’d be interested to hear how everyone out there is approaching the season of Lent. For those of you who never leave comments (which is pretty much everyone, and I know who you are!) it’s really very easy. But I won’t feel like less of a person if you don’t.