The Loss of Lent
I joked with my husband the other day --
In this final week of Lent, in which we've gone without meat for 40 days, I said that we could revisit the food that we liked the best. Have a request week. Lent: A Look Back. We'd eat the meals that we'd most enjoyed. It's interesting how they seemed to be meals most like those in ordinary time: chili, fajitas, macaroni and cheese. We'd even eat another meal of red beans and rice (as if we cannot have it after Easter).
This lenten experiment comes to a close in a week. On that Easter day our community will throw a party and that party will involve a meat smoker named Moe. It frightens me a little. My culinary studies friend said, "Be careful going back to meat after going so long without. It could take a month to add it back completely." So, I'm afraid of that. But I'm also afraid of what it will mean. In one sense, I understand the joy of the occasion; a party is completely appropriate when one encounters a substitutionary atonement. But in another sense, I think I've missed the point of the fast.
I've thought more about food in these past 40 days than I ever have. I have not for one day mindlessly eaten anything. I've planned and even pre-prepped every meal and found solace in my stocked vegetable bin and pantry of vegetable broth, olive oil and Parmesean cheese... the staples of our Spring. I've thought less about God than perhaps a fasting pilgrim ought. In all my activity I still felt the emptiness in our meals, and I sought to fill it. I was left wanting. I focused on all the things I could still have and tried to forget the loss I was supposed to be embracing. All that I did in order to "get through" this loss feels, now, a little like denial.
This weekend, my husband was out of town. This isn't the first time, of course. But the moment he left I missed him. He was still fairly close and yet he wasn't anywhere. The loss crept in and I swept it away in the same manner I've coped through Lent. I planned the days. I filled the time and space with my boys, my to-do list, and with cooking videos late into the night. I left a light on and slept next to the pile of the day's unfolded laundry. At least something was there. I filled that space too.
There's something dark about my aversion toward feeling loss. Albert Haase calls this the false self that avoids pain, blame, criticism, disgrace and loss and he suggests that we "never flee from the present moment, even if it is painful, confusing, sorrowful, distressing or heartbreaking. 'Surrender to suffering as if it were a loving energy.'"* This is distinctly what I have not done during Lent. Each meal has been as intentional as the life of a blind friend of mine who sets everything where she knows she can find it. If I plan it, I won't stumble. If I can anticipate it, I'll succeed.
My success was more important than my grief, than my God.
How then will Moe's appear to me on Easter? I'm afraid that I will look at it and succumb to guilt for not having missed the savior who died, only wanting to celebrate the redemption of life. I did not sacrifice, I only substituted. I missed the lenten idea.
Should I elongate the suffering until I feel it in my bones? No. When the bridegroom is present it isn't time for fasting. True, we go with Christ into his suffering, but we equally walk with him into new life. It remains to be seen whether I go to Moe with celebration or with the cleansing grief that comes when I realize that God himself has had mercy on me, a sinner.
*Coming Home To Your True Self: Leaving the Emptiness of False Attractions by Albert Haase, O.F.M.