Sunday Morning ~ Lent and Sacrifice
Njala ya mnzako mdi yako yomwe. ~ The hunger of your neighbor is also yours.
March 15, 2020
Being brought up Catholic in a town where many, if not most, people were Catholic didn’t allow me much insight into our rituals and practices. I just did what was expected of me along with everyone else I knew. We went to mass every week barely interrupting our day. We could get a twenty-five minute mass at 7 a.m. or sit through an hour with good music at nine. There was an eight o’clock tucked in there, as well as a 10:45 and an 11:45. Or we could go at 5 or 7 p.m. on Saturday. We had so many options, remarkable when you think of it now, in our small town. All our friends went to mass so it seemed the norm, like going to school. No one thought a thing about it. We’d stop in at church on Saturday afternoons after football games to go to confession. We’d wait for our friends to finish their prayers at the altar then kick fallen leaves on the sidewalk as we walked home. We’d resume talk of the football game not the ritual we just observed.
On Ash Wednesday we’d get ashes on our foreheads, have fish for supper, and discuss what we were giving up. Lenten sacrifice wasn’t ever a curiosity, it was a part of spring. The discussion around the supper table wasn’t about why we do this, it was an examination of whether our choice was really a sacrifice. Giving up chocolate for me wasn’t good enough because I didn’t like chocolate that much. We fasted on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. It made Easter Sunday all the more special when this time of sacrifice had ended. In later years as I matured and examined my spiritual self I rejected many Catholic customs, confession being one of them. (Though, done well, this could have been a very rich tradition and opportunity for self reflection once a week. Imagine if it were a counseling session instead of a punitive one. People pay good money for that and our church would’ve been giving it away for free. Marketing. They needed better marketing.) I have, however, kept and valued many of the other traditions, lenten sacrifice being one of them. A friend once told me I was so into denying myself pleasure that lent must be my favorite season.
The basement of my childhood home was a like a little supermarket. In fact we used to play “shopping” down there with all the canned food. The first time my husband was in that basement he looked at me and asked, “What’s with all the squirrel-like activity?” I’d laughed. It was another thing, like lent, I’d never questioned. Whenever my mother needed a can of tomatoes she’d send one of us into the basement to get one. It seemed quite efficient to me. My father did the grocery shopping and we only had one car. She couldn’t run out when she needed something. Later, when we analyzed my father’s mental state, we tried to tie in hoarding of food to his other problems, but now I wonder if it was simply a product of being a child of the depression. He grew up poor and lived though the trauma of a world war. He had then prospered and had the means to protect his family from the deprivation he endured. I was born in the 50’s, white middle class, with professional parents and I lived a life of relative comfort. If we ever dared waste anything we’d listen to my father rant about how we kids didn’t understand how good we had it. How we didn’t understand what it was like to be hungry. He’d yell and point a finger in our faces if we failed to finish eating something on our plates. When we were kids my cousin once asked me, “Wouldn’t you have rather lived through the depression than have parents who did?” We laughed, but we didn’t understand.
When my kids were growing up we insisted they make a sacrifice during lent. My husband and I had to examine what we valued about this practice before imposing it on them. We looked at it, yes, as a way to be more cognizant of the sacrifices Jesus made, but also as a time of self-reflection, cleansing, spiritual growth. When we were in Peace Corps the whole thing made us open our eyes even more. We would laugh at the idea that people would sacrifice any of the little they had. They already had nothing. But they did make lenten offerings. Not a material sacrifice–– they didn’t have things like candy or even sugar most of the time. It was more prayerful, meditative, taking time to reflect on appreciating what they did have and using it intentionally.
I think about this a lot, especially now. Although I have incredible privilege and comfort I’ve tried to tell the stories of those who don’t and learn from them. Now, faced with a public health crisis of unknown consequences, confined to our homes, we have an opportunity to think about this on a different level. What do we really need to survive? There is an upside to this. It will make us more aware of what we use and give us the face slap we need to understand that resources are finite. It also makes me nervous about what will happen if it goes on much longer than our larders will sustain. My romanticized version of making do and living off the land will be tested and I am far better off than many. My idea of a well stocked pantry is having at least four cans of anchovies available. Spring (and lent) is a time I want to turn inward, work on projects, drink more water, and be less social so for me this fits right in to where we are now. I feel guilty about not being in a hospital working to care for people fighting this virus, but I’m relieved I can collect my grandchildren today and bring them here so their parents can continue to work without worrying about them. I want to offer to take in other kids and do a little home school, but that defeats the whole purpose of isolating. I’ll focus on my two and keep them safe. We will tap the maple trees, plant the seedlings, talk about lent and mindfulness, what it means to be prepared and sensible, and how we can be helpful right now, all of us, even a six and four year old.
I know we’ll get though this and the world will go on, but this does seem to be a time of reckoning. I hope we can rise to our best selves with humanity and decency.
Love to all,