Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Surprised by Lent

A funny thing happened on the way to Easter this year. Totally independently and not even mentioning it among ourselves, a couple of friends and I each happened to adopt some diet restrictions for Lent. One friend gave up soda pop, another gave up all sweets, and I gave up wheat in all its forms.

Speaking for myself, I loved the challenge of finding alternatives to wheat. I discovered that it was remarkably easy to do. Corn chips replaced crackers and bread, rice or buckwheat substituted for pasta dishes, and pastries simply disappeared. I wasn't a Nazi about my Lenten discipline. In social settings, when I was served wheat-based foods, I ate--and enjoyed them--politely; when cooking gnocci for my son, of course I did not hesitate to take a bite to test for doneness. But, all in all, I held to the wheaten fast rather well, and felt great about it. I looked forward with eagerness to Sundays, traditionally not part of Lenten fasting, when I would find new heights of pleasure for the day in pancakes, lasagna, and BREAD, glorious bread, carbo-freak that I am. The memory of the really "fine" meals I had eaten on the previous Sunday would sustain me through the wheat-abstaining week ahead. There was a new and pleasing rhythm to my weeks that I felt on a bodily level. Come Holy Week, I was beginning to feel a bit sad that Lent and this rhythm would be coming to an end.

So Resurrection Sunday came, and I took up the feasting appropriate to this key Christian holiday. I ended my Lenten fasting from wheat with gleeful abandon: cheese pastries, Easter breads, and cute bunny-shaped rolls in abundance, tra-la! This, combined with joyous indulgence in the protein-rich Easter foods associated with my particular ethnic heritage (think EGGS, lots of them, mixed with ham and kielbasa) resulted in a resounding thud in energy levels come Easter Monday. Tuesday was even worse, undoubtedly because our athletic teenager, newly interested in his own health, placed his candy-laden Easter basket temptingly right under my nose, rather than hiding it in his room, as had been his custom in previous years. Not even the ultra-powerful horseradish that is also part of my ethnic Easter heritage could counteract this uberhaul of dietary disaster. My overall sense of physical well-being plummeted. In a word, I felt like--well--not the best.

And so it was that I chanced to meet my friends, first one, then the other, both of them also feeling very green under the gills after ending their Lenten disciplines. Both of them stated their intentions to adopt their Lenten disciplines as a year-round rule of life.

It seems so much easier to adopt a temporary life-style change than to summon the will-power for a permanent change. So, my friends and I tried something out for the six weeks of Lent, and discovered what a pleasing thing it is that we had done. "Forever" no longer seems so impossibly difficult. What a gift it is that Christianity's great rhythm of feasting and fasting provides.

Did I mention that I dropped a clothing size during my journey to Easter? Tra-la to that! I wonder what new discipline I will be able to try out next year....