Becoming Transparent

Two weeks ago I made a list of all the non-Lenten food in our fridge, freezer and pantry: meat, fish, cheese, eggs, cream.  Then I turned the list into menus: bacon-wrapped turkey breast, stuffed with wild mushrooms; creamy, spicy, delicious, awful Buffalo chicken dip (ditch the chicken crackers and go for Fritos -- trust me); Puttanesca with fresh Parmesan and salty anchovies; and Rob's died-and-gone-to-heaven favorite, homemade macaroni and cheese.  As we ticked off the days during our long vacation (which continues now into tomorrow, due to yet another impending storm) I spent even more time than usual thinking about food -- which, for those of you who know me personally, is quite an accomplishment.

The thing is, it started to get old.  The period between the Advent and Lenten fasts is short; shorter this year than I can ever remember, in fact.  So we habitually cram in dinners and parties from Christmas until Clean Monday.  I think we took the cake (pun very much intended) with a party that ended just before Forgiveness Vespers last night, when we welcomed twenty friends for champagne, chocolate tarts, blini with caviar and lox and artichoke dip.  It was a perfect afternoon to cap a season of feasting.  But as much as I love to think and talk about recipes and ingredients (even a great book or movie takes a distant back seat to a great meal, especially one enjoyed in the company of family and friends) I saw the balance tipping in favor of self-indulgence.  I was itching for some boundaries to keep me honest.

It might be an American thing, the tendency to overdo it and the desire to reign sovereign over many options, but I think it's more plainly a human thing.  Thoreau wrote, "We do not ride the railroad; it rides upon us."  He said it in 1854, but today, when we have so much at our fingertips, we are even more fooled into believing we actually control it all.

So today it was actually a great relief to not eat except a very little -- a salad, a piece of fruit -- and to spend time thinking, praying, bringing my body back into submission.  Even the thought of seven whole weeks without animal products seemed comforting, a journey of simplicity marked by the occasional dinner out (Southeast Asian, probably) or a much-appreciated glass of wine on a Sunday afternoon.  We are scaling back with our bodies as we throw the weight of our souls into the struggle -- held up by prayers, confessions, the most beautiful hymns and the communal supper, the Eucharist, which we share with all creation.  Fr. George Calciu once told our congregation that fasting makes us transparent.  Not necessarily thinner (it's not a diet) but lighter, clearer, more focused.  Our faults are laid bare, but so are our strengths; so is the beauty of the image of God within each of us.

This will be my thirteenth Lent, and I'm only starting to realize what a blessing this time of abstinence is.  May it be fruitful for all of us.