Reflection: On Eating Chocolate for Lent

I've generally posted the same thing in this space about Lent every year: "...that word; I don't think it means what you think it means." This year I'm happy to have a link that spins this in a new direction.

First of all, let's get this right: Lent is the 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Holy Saturday, not counting any Sundays. Sunday is a feast day; you can't have a fast day and a feast day simultaneously. In the West, abstinence (from all meat of warm-blooded animals) is expected on all Fridays during lent, with fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. (Fasting under most rules permits one meatless meal, and up to two additional "less than half meals" if needed. No snacking.)

The interpretations have varied for as long as the practice has been recognized. There are more forms of lenten fasting than there are forms of Veganism. This is, of course, a good thing. (If nothing else, it gives us something to joke about when people get uptight about it.)

A few years back, I saw the film Chocolat. I was unsure of what exactly to feel. On the one hand, I love the grace and bounty that is ever-present in good food; on the other hand, I'm a firm believer in the need for discipline and respect. The film provided an uneasy, lop-sided exploration of lent, but a remarkable and laudable reflection on grace.

J Kameron Carter's Ash Wednesday reflection (thanks, Michael, for the link) is a more wholly satisfying example of lenten practice with recognition for grace. To say that some should eat chocolate-covered strawberries every day of Lent hits, I think, exactly the mark that we've been missing in the years of "give up MacDonalds" and "give up swearing." The point isn't self improvement; it's sacrifice.

To give up something that you should have given up years ago is an entirely different practice. I applaud those who quit smoking during lent and intend to continue in a "habit of not smoking" afterward, but it's not the same thing as giving up meat. Meat is good for you; it's a blessing. Giving up sex is perhaps the most easily misunderstood example of this phenomenon: we don't give up on relationships during times of fasting because we think the relationship is evil; rather we abstain from the practice temporarily so that we can better understand it when we have it again. It's a form of consecration, if nothing else.

Think of giving up your sight for lent. I've thought about doing this before, but it's not really something I can give up without profound consequences. I'd have quite a few obligations I would have to shirk if I couldn't see for the next 40-some days. That said... imagine what it would be like. Imagine how much you would appreciate your sight if you lost it for six weeks, then got it back! Imagine the sense of empathy you would gain for the people around you who weren't given the choice to get their sight back.

I have no difficulty eating chocolate, baked goods, or meat, so I'm not considering a Carter's post-modern "lenten un-fasting" practice. (Well, OK, I couldn't help considering it briefly...) I think something that will be meaningful is to give up music in the car. This is actually far more difficult than it sounds. I can't give up music altogether (being a FOH mix engineer part-time...) but the car is probably the place music is the most significant to me anyway. If nothing else, I'll be able to fully appreciate the new REM album.

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