This day marks the beginning of Lent, the Christian tradition of fasting and renewed contemplation of spiritual life. It endures for 40 days in commemoration of the time Jesus spent fasting in the desert, during which he endured temptation by Satan. Adherents focus on prayer, doing penance, repentance of sins, almsgiving, atonement and self-denial.
All very commendable and worthy practices.
I recall the tiny Catholic Church in Mbabane, overflowing with serious and devout Swazis lining up to be marked on the forehead with an ash cross. Incense and sweat and lovely singing. I couldn’t wait to get out and surreptitiously wipe my brow before any of our friends could see me – they were all Protestants.
“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” – a sobering thought.
Dad gave up his Gordons pink gin and water (ugh!) before lunch and his John Jameson’s whisky before supper. I think Mum gave up smoking? My brother and I had to forgo sweets, which was really heavy!
The fast was for 40 days but Sundays were excluded and so were birthdays in our house.
I have for some years maintained a fast by giving up beer, which is quite a sacrifice for me.
However, this year I have decided to give up meat. I must confess that my motivation is not that pure: I have been working on reducing my girth by eating healthier and less food and I am conscious that like many colonials, I eat too much meat. So a wee bit of vanity sneaks in there, but discipline and self-improvement trump them.
Giving up meat is not as simple as just forgoing beer; it is a major disruption to household habits, which affect not only me, but also my wife.
She does not like most fish. She has always done the catering including evening meal preparation. You may discern the tension. So I must prepare my own evening meals.
My research into Lent indicates that some fasts only included animal meat, so fish and fowl are acceptable. So tonight it will be tuna fishcakes; tomorrow sardines on toast, Friday could be salt and pepper squid, Saturday maybe crumbed whiting and Sunday will be braaivleis!
Monday boiled eggs, Tuesday tuna salad, Wednesday spaghetti marinara … I am getting into the swing of this! Suggestions are welcome.
I also intend to read up on meditation and perhaps practice it and attempt to complete the book I am writing, which is a major challenge as I have reached a stale block.
Finding a poor person to provide a meal to is difficult in the relative prosperity of a social welfare state. Some local homeless people demand money instead as they get too many meals!! I shall seek an alternate charitable cause.
I suppose I am an agnostic, but I believe in some of the traditions and practices and need self-discipline and spiritual renewal.
Give it a go! It’s a far more achievable challenge than New Year resolutions!