Saturday, February 21, 2015

Lenten Fasting series, part 1

                                                                                                                                            -by Seth

     Boredom is the enemy of fasting. I find it virtually impossible to stick to any kind of regimen (rigorous or otherwise) if lots of aimless downtime is involved. I don't mean leisure or relaxation, I mean meaningless time, time with nothing to fill it except, oh, hey look, food! And worse than boredom itself is the prospect of boring food once a meal comes.

     Of course, I'm not arguing that food should be an overwhelming focus during a period of fasting; that would undermine the whole concept of why deprivation is spiritually beneficial. But one consequence of deprivation is that it makes a min-feast of each meal, a sacred refreshment in a bleak wilderness. And with any feast, intentionality is key. Banquets don't just happen, they are prepared. Lenten meals are no less important than Easter ones, perhaps they are more so as they occur outside that seasons' bounty. And so they should have their fair share of ritual, from the type of food, to the frequency and presentation.

     The Church provides some beautiful guidelines for certain days (Ash Wednesday, Good Friday) but there's no impediment to applying those principles more liberally. Having varying degrees of severity and leniency that ebb and flow with rhythm throughout the season help re-focus fasting the way the pattern of a rosary focuses prayer. Not to mention it's far easier to maintain a fast with particular rules rather than a vague (and easily rationalized) "giving up" of various foods. For one thing, the body is allowed to view meals as small but regular feasts, their content varying but predictable, and spend less time fretting about when or what to eat. For another, there is less temptation to "cheat" if each day offers different reliefs from monotony.

     As a concrete example, this is the schedule for an average (in severity, not necessarily in number of people practicing it) Byzantine fast:

                                                      No meat, dairy, or eggs (unofficially sugar as well,
                                                      it's just not spelled out) throughout the entirety of Lent. 
                                                     Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays also remove 
                                                     wine and oil; while Saturdays and Sundays add fish

     It's somewhat easier to understand in graph form:

     Pretty bleak, no? But that's only because there wasn't enough room to list bread, grains, vegetables, fruits, and oreos, which technically fit all the requirements except sugar. 

     The point, though, is that there's a pattern; on Sunday fish, oil, and wine are on the menu (tell me that doesn't sound good), followed by a bleak Monday, while Tuesday offers back oil and wine but no fish. Repeat the on-again, off-again until the weekend, which is pretty much a bright beacon of culinary goodness. And Easter itself… well, you have no idea how good havarti can taste after that long. Stringent, perhaps; but boring? Never. 

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