March 15, 2012 by Steven Worden
“Remember, Oh Man, that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return”
Millions of people around the world heard that charge as a thumb smudged an ashen cross on their foreheads on Ash Wednesday. Not exactly an admonition that sends one scurrying to the mall to buy the newest boots. But, reminders of insignificance perhaps rarely inspire a frenzy of consumerism such as that which often accompanies the Christmas season. Still, some seasonal response might be forthcoming.
Remarkably, in a materialistic society, a couple of weeks ago, some churches were jam-packed to overflowing as participants sought this sooty mark on the forehead. Maybe some meddlesome biting of the conscience led to a small realization of the need for more humility in their lives.
Further, and in an even more bizarre twist, some people e even decided to make some sacrifice over the next six weeks by not consuming something. Talk about counter-cultural! As that titan of corporate advertising, Google, sharpens even further its knife-edged ability to collect detailed, highly specific information for eager marketers, some folks are actually choosing to consume less, to cut back on something. That’s just crazy talk. After all, we know religion to be oppressive and demanding — surely it could not be freeing us from the even more oppressive and ever-tightening grasp of telling us that we always need more.
Millions of Americans in a variety of churches, in fact, did choose to follow an in- formal tradition in which they decided to fast from something — be it chocolate or soft drinks — during Lent. This practice may be linked to a passage in the sixth century monastic Rule of St. Benedict, which states:
“During these days, therefore, let us add something to the usual amount of our service, special prayers, abstinence from food and drink, that each one offer to God … something above his prescribed measure. Namely, let him withdraw from his body somewhat of food, drink, sleep, speech, merriment, and with the gladness of spiritual desire await holy Easter.”
So, put down that pork chop! Reach back in the cupboard for that jar of quinoa that has been sitting back there for months, waiting for
you to rediscover it. (Recall that decades ago when NASA was looking for the most perfect food for astronauts to live on, they pronounced quinoa (keen-o-ah) the best food on the planet.)
Put down the TV channel changer, boil some water, throw in the quinoa and a little vegetable-flavored bouillon, simmer for 15 minutes and sit down outside on the back porch and dive into a meal suitable for a person who wants to spend some time reflecting on the cosmos and his/her significance in it and less time slathering over the latest offerings on the shopping channel.
You might also be amazed at the unexpected sense of self-efficacy, clarity of mind, and even, well, joy that might ensue. As the social scientist Amatai Etzioni concluded from his research on moral behavior, “There is a distinct sense of elation that sets in once we live up to our obligation — say we fasted on Ramadan, Atonement Day or Good Friday.”
Here’s hoping you are making a good Lent.