I feel a latecomer to Lent this year. The 11th hour worker.
I’ve been Orthodox for fifteen years this year. This is my fifteenth Lent. And somehow every one is still different. I don’t know that I truly came late to the Lenten spirit this year, but the differences were not subtle, and it didn’t feel like I was traveling through the desert of the Lord’s Passion quite as much this year. I am learning, though, that what I feel has very little to do with things.
Over the years I have generally looked forward to the Great Fast, with a bit of hesitation and reserve as to the actual, physical practice of the fast. Converting to a wholly vegetarian menu from our usual twice weekly veg fair has always come with a bit of fear and trepidation, but for the most part, I’ve known that fasting keeps my mind and my heart where they ought to be, and during Lent that is 95% of the battle. That intellectual knowledge—not necessarily borne of experience—of fasting’s critical place in our Lenten preparations has been enough for me to squelch most, if not all, moanings as the preparatory Sundays lead us up and into Lent proper each year.
This year, thank to various and assorted familial ailments requiring high protein, high fat, low carb diets, our family followed a modified, untested fasting practice. I did my best—that’s probably not true—to take the hand we were dealt this year and make it a spiritual discipline, to make it that thing that a fast is. And I can now tell you—from experience—that the fast that is prescribed as a communal experience, indeed is an essential tool for our Lenten battle.
If for no other reason, tradition makes an impact on us, and that fast that we are called to acts as a daily—hourly, even—reminder of the season. Every time the belly speaks, it asks for what we are called to fast from. Every time it grumbles is an opportunity to say no, and to be reminded that we are in the midst of a great journey. Take away the fast and you take away the reminder.
Yes, of course another dietary discipline could be that trigger to prayer, that gentle reminder of our purpose, but from my view here at the end of Lent, it is danged hard for that to be so.
To be fair to myself—a practice that I might need more of, and might need less of—I’ve been distracted. Right up around the beginning of Lent, the oldest child born to me accepted a position at a Boundary Waters outfitter for 6 months. Away from home. Without me. She leaves May 1st. I’ve been a bit preoccupied. To be fair to my faith, this distraction is no excuse, but it is, indeed, a factor in my dabbling on the outskirts of Lent.
I also went in with a slightly new tack. Somewhat intentionally, actually. I generally delve into a greater spiritual reading routine right about the start of Lent. And by greater, I tend to mean more intellectual. I don’t think I’ve even done it intentionally, but I always choose Lent as a time to go for the deeper theology and the tougher reads. Why? Not a clue. But this year I went a different route.
Don’t laugh. Don’t judge. But I used a series of novels to help me through. You can read about a few of them right here on my blog. There may have been some laziness here, but I am maintaining that I truly had good intentions here. And they paid off. The novels seem to have chosen me, but let’s not quibble.
I’ve worked through—and I don’t use the word worked lightly—lots of exercises in empathy, through the stories that have laid themselves on my doorstep. I decided from the get go to mine these babies for whatever they’re worth, and it turns out that they are worth a whole lot when it comes to spiritual growth, if only you come at them from the right angle. Not the usual Lenten education, but a lovely one for certain.
So things have been happening. Big, wonderful things. But somehow it still feels like I am just beginning. Here we are on the Eve of Great and Holy Friday, about to lay Christ in the tomb, and I feel like the switch has finally been thrown. I didn’t go through Lent feeling especially on task this year. But I’m thinking that may be okay. And however I got here, I’m here, and it is time to go to the Cross with our Lord.
See you on the other side,