It’s time for Lent.
These 40 days before Easter have always been a period of transformation for me. There was the year I sacrificed eye makeup, when I used to wake up early every single morning in order to paint my face with full-on smoky eye and winged eyeliner. Now, I only reserve full makeup for special occasions. There was also the year I sacrificed coffee, when I used to drink at least two cups a day. Since then, I only drink tea, and just thinking about coffee gives me a headache. Something about these 40 days allows me a stronger sense of discipline and commitment than any other time of the year. Something about these 40 days resonates with the rest of my life even after Easter passes.
In grade school, when Lent rolled around, my teachers had the class write down Lenten promises on strips of purple construction paper to make a chain. “Remember,” my teachers (mostly from grades two to five) had warned, “Giving up broccoli for Lent when you don’t like broccoli in the first place is not a sacrifice. Sacrifice is like giving up candy.” We would consider this and then scribble down our promises in Crayola marker. The teachers took the strips of paper, rolled them into chainlinks with the words on the inside, and stapled them shut. The chain would remain on display in the classroom for the rest of the school year, sometimes strewn on the counter at the back of the room or dangling from the top of a bookshelf. Ever since then, my teachers’ words of reminder have stuck with me, and so has the act of writing down my Lenten promises. This is my purple strip of paper.
This year, I gave considerable thought and reflection to my Lenten promise. Here’s what I came up with:
- Workday morning yoga
- Write more
- Meatless Fridays
- Keeping Kosher
The first two make up the devotional part of my promise — a return to what I’ve lost in the past year. I have fallen off the wagon of morning yoga, and I have neglected my writing. This change could be the result of a number of factors. But I think working full time and no longer being in school (this past month marks one full year of being out in the workforce) are mostly what did it. When I “forgot” these habits, I didn’t just lose the routines. I lost what kept me grounded, motivated, and energized. To repair and rejuvenate from the past year, I need to bring back and devote myself to these totally selfish habits (and by selfish, I just mean self-centric).
The last two make up the sacrifice element of my promise. In regards to Meatless Fridays, I’ve heard several origin stories. First, there’s the obvious reasoning that depriving yourself of meat (a staple food for some) reminds you of Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice. But I also heard from a high school religion teacher that abstaining from meat on Fridays was an effort to provide fishermen with more business during Biblical times. Whatever it is, I haven’t adhered to the tradition since before college. Growing up Catholic, it was easy to go without meat on Fridays when I was younger — I didn’t have to think about it. Even though I went to a Catholic college that didn’t serve meat on Lenten Fridays in the cafeteria, I somehow found a way to eat meat if that was what I wanted. Now that I have access to whatever I want to eat, whenever I want it, it would be a true exercise in discipline to go without, in addition to renewing my commitment to my college try at keeping Kosher.
That’s all my dad could talk about when I was little during Lent: the importance of discipline and sacrifice at this time of year. He’d talk about how, in the Philippines, people would brutally harm and even crucify themselves in commemoration of Jesus’ death. He’d talk about how when he was growing up, on Good Fridays (the Friday before Easter Sunday), there was no television, radio, singing, or labor that involved driving nails into anything (and there was definitely no meat). Those then became the Good Fridays of my childhood (the solemn and noiseless remembrance, not the self-harm).
Last year, I spent Good Friday at a Passover seder. It was the first Good Friday in my life that I didn’t attend mass. We can deep dive into the implications and irony of a Passover-Easter overlap another time, but what it comes down to is this: On Good Friday last year, I sat at a table with people singing joyful songs, and I accidentally ate meat (I “forgot”). In my attempts to participate in my partner’s culture and navigate an interfaith situation, I neglected my own faith. Even if I didn’t call myself a religious person or describe my life as “faith-filled,” there was still a part of me that felt as if something wasn’t right. It was the part that was moved to play Via Dolorosa on repeat both to and from the seder. The part that wished I was sitting in a dark, candle-lit Church, venerating the cross. I wasn’t gaining or creating or building anything by skipping out on my traditions. I was only losing.
In considering my Lenten promise this year, it became important to me that my decisions would need to be about building, not losing.
Keeping Kosher and abstaining from meat does in fact mean that I will lose. Admittedly, I will lose non-Kosher meat. I will lose shrimp, crab, and calamari. I will lose hot wings from my local spot and my mom’s pork dishes. But what do I stand to gain? When I gave up makeup, I surrendered my vanity and gained self-esteem (plus a lot more time to spare in the mornings). When I gave up coffee, I surrendered the crutch of caffeine and gained independence. All these sacrifices, devotions, and promises have built me better than any diet, detox, or fad exercise. All of them add up to one strong purple chain. I don’t know if this is what my Catholic school teachers expected me to take away from the paper chain activity, but I’m glad I learned the lesson.