Every year I ask my dad, "What are you giving up for Lent, Dad?"
Every year he answers, "I think this year I'm going to give up self-denial."
Since I stopped going to church I have not thought of Lent. It is something those Catholic people do, not I. Easter is that confused saccharine holiday celebrated by those Christians, not me. Sure, I love the equinox. Jesus? Rising from the what? Yeah, thanks. Why don't you go back to your DaVinci Code, stupid sheep.
So when my Midge told me she was considering giving something up for Lent, I thought, "Yeah, what a great idea." I often think this of things the Midge does. I, like other people, sometimes follow her places: to the Art History minor, to Boston University for graduate school, to Boston University for employment, to the Boston University degree in Higher Education, to Kim Clark, to Brighton - oh wait, maybe she followed me to Brighton but I may have followed her to Brookline or maybe she followed Dean to Brighton, I dunno - but many times the Midge has good ideas that come from good places. So if it's good enough for the Midge, it's good enough for me.
I always admired the uncomplicated devotion of Muslims fasting for Ramadan. No small part of me has been inclined also to fast for Ramadan, but that also seems so misappropriated and culturally arrogant. "Okay, let me just play with this one aspect of your faith and when I'm done I'll put it down and go back to drinking martinis. Thanks, this was fun." I have been fasting on Mondays since the new year, and have fasted in other ways, by choice, either with the intention of cleansing on a physical level (which always has the wonderful benefit of emotional and spiritual cleansing - it's really true that once you free the body of its heaviness and its trials processing quantities of food not to mention anything artificial or intoxicating that 'the nearness' arises quite naturally... see tangent below*) but never for a month. Never with a greater spiritual intention.
So why not reclaim this time that is a part of my heritage, whether I have left the dogma behind or not. I just remember 'giving up' dumb shit like candy or... I don't even remember what else. And I was always in a sour mood on Good Friday when my mother made us "reflect" with no TV on a day that we had no school! What a bunch of BS. So Jesus died. Going to church on Good Friday and walking the stations of the cross, witnessing these elaborate full-color sculptures in relief of white Jesus and white Mary and the bad people who crucified him, none of it sunk in (surprise). I was so dissociated from the idea that Jesus may have been a real person, that he may have been a great prophet and one of the embodiments of true compassion. Church was a place to go and check out my friends and stare at the ceiling, imagining climbing the columns and swinging from pole to pole on the lanterns that hung from way up there, conceiving of whether I could get around the circumference of the church without plummeting to my death. And pondering the koan of just how do they change those lightbulbs in that funny gold star-shaped lamp thing allllll the way above the altar, like 100 feet in the air. I still don't know if that light turns on (there are bulbs!) or who has the power of levitation to change them.
So all of this is to say that I'm going to try my hand at fasting for Lent. My own modified version, with much in the way of intention and forgiveness and little in the way of guilt or punishment for not adhering to it to the letter. Liquids during the day, one meal after sundown. No alcohol, no meat. Not quite as ascetic as allowing nothing to pass the lips during daylight, but it's mine and I like it. I'm reading about the fact that Sundays are free days (feast days) and that fasting is suspended on these days. Considering the fact that most Sundays I am at my parents' house for dinner, this is appealing. But that's not really what it's about is it? It's not about finding loopholes or ways to get a pass. It's about mindfulness and presence and intention and remembering those who don't have a choice but to fast, both now and in the past.
*Tangent: When I was first, first pregnant and didn't know it, I had come home from July 4th weekend with my extended family feeling hungover, strange, very irrationally (or so I thought) angry at having to come back into the city and stale air from the Vermont countryside, and just off in general. I decided to complete a 7-day cleanse that began with two days of fasting. No problem. On the second day, everything in me lightened up. Strange questions began to arise in my mind about dharma and the extent to which we're meant to accept our path or whether we should be agents of change within it. I called Karim to tell him I needed to speak with his mother, who was at the time a newly-ordained Interfaith Minister. That night before bed as Ayano and I were close under the flickering candlelight and the entire world seemed to be dropping away, I remember very clearly saying "I feel really close to God right now." Which, for those of you who know me well, know that this is something I'd never utter. And as we lay there I looked at him and saw someone else's face on his body. Someone with thin blue lines intersecting in patterns all over his head, kind of like moko in the negative. I literally squeezed my eyes shut and shook my head, as if I was a cartoon character. The image remained, lived, breathed in front of me. I wasn't afraid at all. I don't know if this was the spirit of Selah's ancestral father or perhaps the spirit of Selah herself but he was there. And easily appeared after just two days with no food. Again, my friends who know me as pragmatic and frank, I am not messing with you. I can summon the moment in my mind clear as day.
Here I go, off on not so much of a spiritual quest but a realization of intention and a consummation of years (now, literally) of being physically occupied by and beholden to another being to provide her nourishment. My body is back to being my own (as much as it ever is/was), and now I am setting about healing from this process of generating, germinating, and giving forth life of another person. Clearing the way for the next great adventure.