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.