Every Sunday a Feast

Every Sunday a Feast
Icon of the Wedding at Cana

March 8, 2014

“Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “The wedding guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.” Matthew 9:14-15

Most people who undertake a Lenten fast pride themselves on complete abstinence from Ash Wednesday until Easter. However, Sunday is a celebration of the Resurrection, and so Sundays are always considered “feast days,” or “festival days” — the opposite of fast days.

I think it’s a good idea to break the fast on Sundays; notice I said that people “pride themselves” on their total abstinence. There’s a problem, right there: the Lenten fast becomes a good work and a source of personal pride. Breaking the fast on Sundays does two things: it acknowledges that Sundays are, indeed, days to celebrate and thus feast; and it also helps curb spiritual pride, which is not only one of the most obnoxious forms of pride, but perhaps also one of the most dangerous.


Dessert Friday!

Dessert Friday!

March 7, 2014
I certainly deserved something yummy today.

It was a long and satisfying day — All Saints’ hosted the World Day of Prayer, a service written by women in Egypt, and then we had a lovely reception with cookies, cookies, brownies and cookies. I brought cheese and crackers, and had plenty of cheese and crackers . . . er, cheese with cheese on top. Good day, but long and complicated, and I definitely deserved a treat. (If you’re at all familiar with the Enneagram, that’s completely true to type for me! The problem is that I always deserve a treat!)

After dinner I had a lovely banana split . . . wait . . . I meant lovely creamy Greek yogurt from Trader Joe’s with a not-quite ripe banana and almonds. It tasted as good as a banana split to me. For this three-week segment using the 21-Day Sugar Detox program, I’m eating full-fat dairy. I don’t think I ever had full-fat Greek yogurt before. It’s amazingly delicious!

I also realized (again) how much I think about food. I save my one daily piece of fruit for after dinner because I’m convinced that if I eat it earlier in the day I’ll suffer after dinner. And suffering is bad, right? Well, as my sister Ellen commented, all the main religions encourage some sort of fasting; I don’t believe the point is to cause suffering, but to periodically step away from whatever we’re attached to, whatever pulls us away from the Real, from God, from our deepest desires. And letting go of attachment usually entails some suffering.

Let me remind myself why I’m doing this: I’m doing this because in the past I have tended to eat treats when (1) I’m hungry, (2) I’m bored, (3) I’m cranky, (4) I’m uncomfortable in any way, (5) I’m thirsty, (6) I’ve had a good day, (7) I’ve had a bad day, (8) I have too much work to do and can’t figure out what to do next, (9) I just did a lot of work and deserve a break before I figure out what to do next, (10) something with sugar crosses my line of vision . . . .

I’m grateful for abundance, but abundance run amok is disordered, and so this Lent perhaps I will, with God’s help, restore a little more order in my life. Although if the Holy Spirit wants to shake things up with some holy disorder, that’s OK with me. But don’t quote me on that; the Holy Spirit might be listening!

Feliz jueves*

March 6, 2014

Oh, it all sounded so adventurous! I cleaned out my cupboards a week ago, putting all the stuff I won’t be eating way back in the pantry room. I did my shopping. I made sure I had the first three days of food on hand. I didn’t print out the daily log, but I can do that part later. 

But yesterday was a rather long day, culminating in the beautiful and reflective Ash Wednesday service. And today I’m just pooped out. I feel sleepy and logy and cold. I guess when we change the sources of energy our bodies run on it takes some adjustment time. I don’t crave anything — but I’m also not as prayerful and present as I had hoped. OK, I don’t feel prayerful and present at all. This is another point, when fasting, that I tend to start backtracking: “See! This isn’t helping my spiritual condition at all! I’m just tired and grumpy and unmotivated. Fasting is DUMB! It’s just spiritual calisthenics, a big ego trip.” 

Nevertheless, I ate a good breakfast again and, although I really didn’t feel like it, went off to my Spanish class. (“?Como éstas?” “Mui BLECH.”) Then Thursday Bible study; I always prepare lunch, and they had grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup, while I had salmon salad wrapped in romaine. And tonight, cranky as I am, I made the labor-intensive meatloaf recipe, with two grated carrots and a grated red bell pepper (never again! never again! grating bell pepper is a nightmare!). So I guess it’s all OK.

If I’m willing to consider my past experience (the option being grumpy whining), the prayerful presence and groovy spiritual goodness I seek seem to come after I persevere and let my body adjust to change. So . . . “?Como estas?”  “Asi, asi, gracias.” And tomorrow is another day. 

*Happy Thursday


Day One: Breakfast

Day One: Breakfast

March 5, 2014
Buffalo Chicken Egg Muffins from The 21-Day Sugar Detox

I don’t plan to publish photos of everything I eat for the entire duration of Lent; it feels a little off to publish just one photo on one of the few true fast days observed in the Episcopal Church. But today I’m feeling a little self-obsessed. (And the muffins are really good, too!) This always happens when I fast: I think, think, think. I think about whatever I’m ‘releasing’ for the time period (all food, criticism in thought or speech, fiction, sugar, meat) — like, this morning on my way home from the dentist I really wished I had time to stop at a coffee house and read a little bit of Nick Hornby’s Ten Years in the Tub: A Decade of Soaking in Great Books; of course, then I thought about how coffee houses aren’t just about coffee, they’re about the hot beverage, plus the matching croissant or pecan bun or (my favorite, as Magi knows) some nice little lemon cake. Thought: “I only just discovered the first decent croissant I’ve had in the entire decade I’ve lived on the East coast!!! I should’ve had two!” And those thoughts are generally followed by thoughts about how fasting causes me to be self-obsessed so it’s probably a stupid thing to do, and besides, I’m sure I’m really trying to lose weight . . . . Those thoughts will settle down, if my experience over the past 20 years is any gauge. And then they’ll pop up again.

Here’s how the Book of Common Prayer invites us all “to the observation of a holy Lent,” in the Ash Wednesday service, a good primer on the disciplines of Lent:

“Dear People of God: The first Christians observed with great devotion the days of our Lord’s passion and resurrection, and it became the custom of the Church to prepare for them by a season of penitence and fasting. This season of Lent provided a time in which converts to the faith were prepared for Holy Baptism. It was also a time when those who, because of notorious sins, had been separated from the body of the faithful were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness, and restored to the fellowship of the Church. Thereby, the whole congregation was put in mind of the message of pardon and absolution set forth in the Gospel of our Savior, and of the need which all Christians continually have to renew their repentant and faith.

“I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word. And, to make a right beginning of repentance and as a mark of our mortal nature, let us now kneel before the Lord, our maker and redeemer.” BCP, 264-265

“Is this a Lent thing, or is this a diet thing?”

March 4, 2014
My good friend Liz asked me this question the other day: “OK, is this a Lent thing, or is it a diet thing?” Her question inspired this blog.

A few months ago I decided to quit sugar during Lent. Which begins on Ash Wednesday. Tomorrow.

“Giving something up” was my childhood Lent. And, like New Year’s resolutions, the shelf-life was pretty short. Adult Lent is about stripping away that which is unnecessary, clearing out a little space in my head, heart and body; adult Lent usually means some sort of additional spiritual discipline rather than getting rid of something.

But this year’s decision to spend a sugar-free Lent (free of a bunch of other things, too, as it turns out, at least for the first three weeks) is motivated more by spiritual impulse than an impulse to improve my health, look great, lose weight, etc. Sure, I’d like to be healthy, look good, maintain a healthy weight; but that’s not why I’m engaging in my sugar fast.

I’m addicted to sugar. I’ve been addicted to more harmful substances, so I understand addiction. And my working definition of addiction, at least this Lent, is “anything that diverts my attention from God,” or “anything that distracts me from what’s real.” Sugar has become a major distraction in my life.

For the first three weeks, I’m using a plan, The 21-Day Sugar Detox program; there’s a book, and a Facebook page, and it seems like a wholesome, sensible way to do this. Plus, it gives me a to-do list every day, which is good. This is scary for me; I’m afraid I’ll feel terrible and be cranky and find out that I don’t trust God. The antidote, as I see it, is to jump in and do it. Lots of planning, prayer, and as much presence as I can muster. (My husband Magi reminds me that failing to plan means I’m planning to fail; so cliche . . . so true! So I’m doing a lot of planning.) Mainly, though, I want to pay attention to my body; pay attention to my heart; pay attention to my thoughts.