Tuesday, February 16, 2010

JAN: So I have confession to make. Every year since I can remember I celebrate Lent, which starts tomorrow.

That's right. I give up something for 40 days. But it's not a religious thing. Although I once was what they call a cafeteria-Catholic, after the priest-pedophile controversy, I became a seriously disaffected Catholic.

Still, I always give something up at Lent. Something I really like a lot. So does my husband, both my brothers, and my 20-year old son. What's weirder is that we actually look forward to it.

I've given up: chocolate, cookies, wine, all alcohol (twice), all sweets (numerous times) and saying anything remotely negative about anyone (the hardest of all). My son gave up butter once. And television - an incredible challenge when he was 12-years old.

One of my very best friends, (an atheist) questions my sanity almost every year: Why, she always asks, when life is so short, would you give up something you like for 40 days??

Because its oddly satisfying. I don't think it makes me feel "holier" or closer to God. But I do think it must makes me a little more pleased with myself.

In real life, I'm weak on self-discipline. I've never been able to stick to any diet for more than twenty minutes. I routinely violate my writing schedule. And once I start on email, I can't stay away from it.

But no matter what I give up for Lent, I manage to stick to it. And its not because I'm doing a lot of "self-examination," or going to church. On some days, (okay, I admit, Good Friday) I revert to cultural training and think about being a better person. . But is completely separate from the deprivation.

In some ways, I think I might like Lent for the same reason I like camping or taking vacations on a sailboat. I enjoy the challenge of a restricted space.

This year, I'm giving up sweets, (this includes Cosmos, but not fruit, ) and checking email no more than three times a day. I don't think this gets me into heaven or "prepares me" for Easter. But I do wonder if it provides a teeny-weeny rebirth. A passage into spring.

So am I just totally Catholic no matter what I say? Or is this some sort of human need? All sorts of cultures include a fast. Can anyone out there understand the appeal of 40 days of abandoning your Valentine's chocolate?

And, tomorrow when I'm on my first day of drinking my latte with no sugar, come back for New York Times bestselling author Kate Carlisle, who will be blogging about her Scottish roots.


  1. I like being Jewish. We get one day to fast and that covers everything.

  2. How about I give up shoveling snow...?

    Seriously - I completely understand the lure/satisfaction of this.

  3. When I was little I once told my mother I wanted to give up poppy seeds. I hadn't gotten the concept that it had to be something you LIKED. I admire you for being able to do it. Does it still count if you know the thing is bad for you anyway?
    You've inspired me...no diet Coke until...when does this thing end? Is it Easter?

  4. Some years I give up something for Lent and some years I take on a discipline--like saying Morning Prayer each morning (I'm Episcopalian--Catholic Lite) or committing to doing something nice anonymously for someone every day. I haven't quite decided what I'm doing this year, but I'm leaning toward a prayer discipline of some kind . . . praying for people I dislike? praying for the victims of war and natural disasters? I need to decide today!
    PS: I'm with you about no email control--the last couple days I've taken my hard copy manuscript to a coffee shop and it's been blissfully relaxing not to fight the email urge.

  5. Yes, Terry and you also can avoid the Christmas madness if you want to. That's when I wish the most that I was Jewish. And more efficient fasting!

    Hallie, I knew you'd understand!

    Ro, of course you can give up something that's bad for you. As long as you really, really like it!

    Hi Laura. That's a beautiful way to celebrate Lent. And more to the serious Lent point.

  6. Oh, Jan, I understand the discipline part of it. You can kind of see--it's rising above yourself, if that makes any sense.

    And it gets more rewarding as the time passes and you succeed. Lovely.

    I'm thinking about the not saying or thinking anything mean. Huh. Can't hurt, right? Doing it.

    Thank you.

  7. So you were a "cafeteria Catholic" but then you became a "disaffected Catholic". Was it really the "priest/pedophile" scandal, or was the checkout line at the cafeteria just too crowded.

    Isn't it impossible to reach a state of disaffection with something you were never committed to in the first place?

  8. Hi Joe,

    I could have a long debate about that, because believe me, I have strong objections to your argument. But this is a lighthearted blog. No place to argue the very personal and emotional realms of faith or politics.


  9. The lenten ritual I could never understand was no meat on Fridays. I happen to love fish. How is it in any way better for my soul to have shrimp and lobster for six weeks? My daughter does beans or peanut butter and jelly once a week with her family and they put the money they saved into the habitat for humanity box. That's when it makes sense, I think, because you are actually eating what the poor would eat that night.
    I think I'll try just to give up unkind thoughts for lent.
    And Jan, I'm an angry Catholic. All my collection money going to pay off enormous amounts in molestation settlements. Then we spend hours praying for priestly vocations when half the congregation--married men and women, would love to serve as priests. I felt like jumping up and yelling "Hello! We're already here!"

  10. Hi Rhys,
    You and I will have to go out for drinks sometime and vent!!

    I like the beans and peanut butter idea, the only problem for me is I'm bad at the whole calculation part to figure out what I'm really saving.

    I just make an extra donation. This year to Haiti!!


  11. Since my college days, I have fasted from Good Friday to Easter Sunday, nothing but water (and, one year, the antibiotics I was on for a nasty infection). I can completely identify with the satisfaction of giving something up for Lent, despite your atheist friend not getting it. I find the Easter fast, besides increasing my appreciation of food, has a remarkable centering effect.

    Do you give it up the whole time from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday? Or do you allow yourself to indulge on the Sunday feast days, which are technically not part of the 40 days of Lent, hence the 47 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday?

  12. Hi Paul,
    Thanks for stopping by. I give it up the entire 40 days, which actually ends before Easter. (I think on Easter Saturday, or maybe even Good Friday)

    I am in awe of your fasting. I ounce tried to fast completely on Good Friday, but I was stupid and on Gantrasin, a sulpher drug, and I became so sick and unable to lift my head that my mother thought I was having a stroke actually got a doctor to the house.

    That sort of did for me on fasting, but I applaud your discipline.


  13. I'd forgotten about giving up things for Lent. It's a great idea.
    And fish on Fridays? Whole Foods still puts a lot of extra meatless alternatives on the hot bar on Fridays, so it's a pretty heavy cultural memory, especially considering the polyglot cultures that comprise most Whole Foods kitchens.
    In church the other day, I started wondering what happened to the beautiful sculpted stations of the cross that were on the walls of St. Patrick's in Natick before Vatican II. I'm glad some keep personal denial, sacrifice and good deeds going even as stone disappears.

  14. Hey Gene,
    I'm with Rhys on the fish on Friday thing. Especially Whole Foods fish, that wouldn't seem like much of a sacrifice. That's the part of Lent I always forget. The Friday thing.

  15. I slways used to give up vegetables as a kid. My nieces tell me now you're supposed to do something good everyday instead of giving up. When will they stop changing the rules on us?
    I just have one question: where can I get one of those T-shirts?

  16. Jesus, you can't give up sugar. You can't give up chocolate. You can't give up the only reason to live. I'm in awe.

  17. Vegetables as a kid? hmmmmmmmm.

    Hey Rose.
    Day 1 of no sugar in coffee, no chocolate or dessert.

    ONly 39 days to go!