MARDI GRAS

I hope to make a “good Lent” this year. By which I mean I hope to move closer to following Christ’s call to “Stay awake!,” “Store up your treasure in heaven,” and “Pick up your mat and walk.”

Here’s my plan, and I feel quite sure that if I can implement it even in some tiny share, the effects will flow out to areas of my life:

I would like to reform my eating habits.

I’m embarrassed to admit how truly abysmal they are. I eat standing up, hunched over the kitchen counter; or while wandering through the apartment doing ten other things; or bent over my laptop answering emails, reading the paper, watching movies, researching and/or writing.

And let’s not forget while driving.

Hard on the heels of my divorce, I attributed this to the fact that my ex-husband and I had sat down to dinner every night, and thus eating alone made me feel sad.

Here’s the thing, though: We split up in 2000.

So twenty-one years later, it’s not sadness, it’s sloth. It’s fear that I WON’T GET EVERYTHING DONE. I won’t complete all my many, many tasks (about 90% of which are nonessential) for the day.

Thus, I can count on two hands the times during the last six years in my apartment that I have laid a place, sat down with a plate, a glass, cutlery and a napkin, said grace, maybe lit a candle, and allowed myself truly to enjoy, give thanks for what I’m eating and the hundreds of pairs of hands that have gone into planting, raising, feeding, watering, harvesting (or butchering as the case my be), packing, shipping, stocking.

I often say a hurried thank you before and after eating. But that’s a far, far cry from giving my food the attention it deserves.

“Absolute attention is prayer,” said Simone Weil, and prayer is exactly my principal aim and consideration.

I’ve already started. Yesterday at lunchtime, I actually took a break from work, sat down in a chair away from my desk, and engaged in the one activity: eating.

Last night I did lay a place, with a cloth napkin and so on. Oh wow! Also I forgot to say that you pray for the dead at the end of the meal. (The whole idea, by the way, came from this post by Dr. Tom Neal (whose blog Neal Obstat I highly recommend) on monastic eating).

Already I see that committing to this one change is actually going to give me MORE time. Don’t ask me how or why this is true, but I wonder if the same phenomenon doesn’t underlie the miracle of the loaves and fishes. Or as I read in a biography of the cellist Gregor Piatigorsky recently, (said apropos of aging): “I don’t have time to be in a hurry anymore.”

Interestingly, my Lenten fast, or part of it at least, has always revolved around food. A couple of years I gave up coffee, which was disastrous and seriously, way beyond me. Sugar of course is always good to cut out or at least down on. But sitting down to eat is a “fast” of a different order altogether.

Slowing down, paying attention, surrendering my incredibly self-will-run-riot temperament implicates my mind, heart, intention, and conscience in a way that simply cutting a particular item out of my diet doesn’t.

Sitting down to eat allows me to receive…which I’m pretty sure is kind of the whole point of fasting…

Meanwhile this morning’s Magnificat had a spot-on reflection from Servant of God/convicted murderer Jacques Fesch: an excerpt from a letter to a friend who was being ordained that ends like this:

“Little brother, I imagine you must be overflowing with joy. Your last letter was a hymn of love and thanksgiving. As for me, I’m more like a snail, crawling along the path of faith, stumbling at every third step and moaning and groaning over each obstacle to be overcome. But could it be that I am better off this way?” [italics mine].

Remember we are dust, and to dust we shall return.

Blessed Lent.

20 Replies to “MARDI GRAS”

  1. Judy Sullivan says: Reply

    Thank you Heather
    Living alone, a widow, I find myself obsessing about food, which is my alcoholic, obsessive nature. Always obsessing !! I’m in my 40th year of soberity and want to thank you for your words that have encouraged and blessed me through these years.
    I have stopped before I eat and give thanks for if Jesus did it , I must.
    So again bless you .

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      My pleasure, Judy, and blessings right back to you! Here’s to a fruitful Lent for all….

  2. Beautiful and relevant. Thank you!

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Whoa, I just sat down again for lunch, and ONLY ate. It’s a whole new world! Blessed Lent to you, and thanks for reading.

  3. Lawrence McDonald says: Reply

    Read your post while eating my Mardi Gras dinner.
    Is that ok ? True, but teasing. A beautifully thought -out post, as always, each original. I’ve compared these miniatures to the short piano pieces by the Romantic greats- Chopin, Schubert, Schumann –
    and do so again. The images and thoughts last.

    Lawrence M,

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Oh bless you, Lawrence, and thank you as well for your always generous, kind donation. I love the miniature, short piano piece comparison…for six or seven years I’ve written a monthly 500-word essay for Magnificat and a weekly 800-word piece for Angelus. Before that I did a bunch of even shorter commentaries for a few years for NPR. Not to mention that I’ve maintained this blog for 11 years. So my whole psyche, nervous system, brain, and heart, it’s true, have been pruned toward the “miniature” form. Though I did just complete a 7000-word essay on pilgrimage, the search for home, etc…that was a stretch and I enjoyed it. Anyway, I love that you read the post while eating Mardi Gras dinner. Hey some guy reads aloud while everyone else is eating at the monastery, so as long as you’re reading MY stuff, I’m sure it’s okay…:) Blessed Lent to you, Lawrence!

  4. Joan Gillespie says: Reply

    Beautiful Heather. I’m stealing this from you. I always arrange part of Lent around food as well and I eat the same way you describe with the addition that eating while standing and moving and driving mindlessly leads to eating often! Have a Blessed Lent!

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Thank you, Joan! I am eating simply but attentively on this Ash Wednesday, and I hope all the days to follow…blessed Lent to you and thanks for your readership.

  5. Clare Thompson says: Reply

    This really inspired me, Heather. Eating is a holy act. Here is something I mused on just recently:
    We exist in Reality, composed of matter, energy, time, and space. We are suspended in Reality, living with, in, and through it. Our given bodies are created from material that once formed other creatures and things of the earth. To live, we must take in new matter and release the excess. To live, we must take in potential energy, transform it, and give that energy back. This continual cycling of matter and energy is our communion with Reality. It is the great sign of our spiritual communion with the Body of Christ, which culminates in the Sacrament of the Eucharist. We are obligated, because we are given life, to take in and to give out.

    Nothing new is created here; matter and energy are merely transformed, EXCEPT where there are plants and sunshine. Then there is new energy entering the system. The sun radiates to earth, giving new energy, and little chloroplasts “eat” the sun energy by trapping it into sugar. This sugar is transformed into many food forms which find their way to my mouth, my digestive tract, my blood, my mitochondria and SUN ENERGY is released, allowing me to live and love. And that energy flows back into the rest of Reality, with an eternal ripple effect.

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      So beautiful, Clare, thank you! Our paying attention to and giving praise for the process is the leaven, like yeast all through the loaf, that brings the dimension of love into play, I’m thinking…happy to hear from you and blessed Lent–

  6. Ma chère Heather, do slow down and savour the moment more fully alive! I also wondered if you’d consider for this Lenten season, setting a second place setting, perhaps once a week for an imaginary guest of your choosing, where your imagination, thoughts and comments might inspire your creative juices to wander with child-like abandon…one day I should like very much to enjoy a meal with you!

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Thank you, Philippe, if I’m ever in Paris, I will hold you to that meal!
      And your comment prompted me to return to the last pages of my conversion memoir REDEEMED, which reveal, one more time that plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose…
      I’m talking about a kind of wacky book by this woman Florence Scovell Shinn:
      “But perhaps my favorite [Shinn] story was this: “Through misunderstanding, a woman had been separated from her husband, whom she loved deeply…She made this statement: ‘There is no separation in Divine Mind, therefore, I cannot be separated from the love and companionship which are mine by divine right.’ She showed active faith by arranging a place for him at the table every day; thereby impressing the subconscious with a picture of his return. Over a year passed, but she never wavered, and one day he walked in.”
      I don’t have a husband (at the moment!), but I’m almost always separated, to one degree or another, from my deepest self, and I’m reminded that it may be the hardest thing we have to do as humans. To be patient. To have faith. To not give up, to not go through our days mad at everyone, or afraid of everyone, or wanting everyone to get out of our way, or in despair unto death because nobody’s fixing us, nobody’s giving us what we want, and our hearts are broken and shattered and bleeding, our hearts are stretched on the rack with longing, and we don’t have the words to say it, and if we did, who would hear them, and we cannot bear one more second of it without picking up a drink, or a drug, or a gallon of ice cream, or shopping, or work, or fantasy, or a slot machine or a gun.
      So—Southern California wack job? Crossed the thin line between passion and pathology at last? You be the judge. But the upshot is I’ve arranged a place at my table, beneath the chandelier in the formal dining room, where I pass by and glance over at it a hundred times a day. A royal blue and gold Mexican pottery plate, an olive green linen napkin, a sterling silver knife and fork, a bamboo placemat—all blessed, prayed over, wept over, knelt before, kissed; making room for whoever and whatever might want to be welcomed. It could be anything. It could be an idea for a new book, or the opportunity to give away a big pile of money. It could be sickness or death. It could be Christ himself, the bridegroom, come in glory. I know not the day nor the hour when the Master comes, nor what he might ask, so I’ll go about my daily tasks holding nothing back, but saving all of myself for the wedding.
      And now—I’m waiting.”

      Not for a husband, though…

  7. Thank you Heather and “Happy Lent”! I remember last year when Lent began I was reflective and anticipating all God might reveal to me if I set a greater intention to be still and listen. Then BAM- the pandemic and subsequent shutdown happened. This year I’m trying to be on the down low, hoping I can have my Lenten journey without any life changing world events. (Ha!) Even so, I love the idea of setting the table and mindful mealtime. My husband and I often plop on the couch with a plate and watch television after we say a prayer and so it goes…I’m reading Bishop Barron’s Lenten Gospel Reflections (word on fire) this season- hoping for a peaceful journey. God Bless!

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Thank you, dear Laura! Paying more attention in even the smallest way has got to help…blessed Lent to you!

  8. Thanks, Heather

    A favorite Ash Wednesday sermon by now deceased Msgr. Gerry Martin had only two points:
    1. “Expect to see less of me for forty days. I’m planning to lose 25 lbs.” [He needed to lose them and parly, he succeeded.]
    2. “Don’t give anything up this Lent. Resolve to do something, like writing the governor and telling him to restore the benefits for the unemployed he took out of legislation last week.”
    Fr. Gerry had a warm sense of humor and startled a few parishioners from time to time.

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Wonderful, Frank! Right, we don’t need to “give up” anything as a feat of spiritual athleticism–I mean who cares? But can we take an action of some kind, whether it’s writing to the governor or paying attention for a change to what we eat, that is aimed toward being more aware of and attentive to OTHERS? I think I would have loved this Msgr. Gerry Martin! Thank you–

  9. Ron Lewberg says: Reply

    Thank-you. Blessed Lent to you as well Heather.

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Hey Ron, thank you, thank you!

  10. A timely read as I just scarfed my lunch while standing at the kitchen counter thinking of the next to-do item. Thanks.

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Ha, I’m finding those old habits die hard…thanks, Seth, blessed Lent to ya…

I WELCOME YOUR COMMENTS!

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