A couple years ago I went vegan for Lent. It was a culinary challenge and an experiment in trying on dietary restrictions that were not my own but borrowed. I got creative, bonded with a few meat-free enthusiasts and I felt pretty good as the result of my healthier choices. Somewhere in the midst of my vegan Lent, I figured out a way to make amazing, dairy free, dark chocolate truffles. At some point in my creative confectioning, I realized I was probably drifting from my original goal, since consuming decadent chocolate isn’t really an exercise in deprivation.
In reflection on this experience, I came up with a phrase I’d like to coin “the Lenten loophole.” What I mean is those exceptions we make or corners we cut to keep our Lenten disciplines. It’s not bad, per se, but just a bit of an oversight; an adventure in missing the point. I remember a friend saying once that in our “giving up” disciplines of Lent, we are meant to feel the sting of it; the loss. If you’re fasting, for example, you might just get a little dizzy from the blood sugar drop. His point was that it is a reminder that we are human, weak, flawed. But also, we get an opportunity to embrace a void; making room for God there in that space that we otherwise fill with noise, distractions, junk food, booze, busyness, self-importance, whatever. In this, 21st century North American land-o-privilege, we’re not too hip on suffering because, well, for most of us, we just don’t have to suffer. We can have whatever we want, whenever we want. I read a global anthropological textbook once where the author referred to America as “the land of the midnight snack.”
If you’re a millennial like me, you depend on affirmation – you’ve been raised on it. So, suffering? We equate it with self-sabotage or worse. But that is not the path of suffering that Christ welcomes us to. Suffering, from a Christian perspective, is deeply connected to faith. When Jesus called the disciples to follow him, he didn’t equip them with imperial purple uniforms or connect them to a company credit line. Being with Jesus didn’t open doors for them, except to be of service. And in his invitation to those rough men of Galilee he offered words of warning: follow me and you will lose everything – your family, your status, you may be imprisoned or persecuted. This is part of what it means to be disciples, to belong to God, to preach, teach, touch, heal, travel and embody the good news.
As for us, we want a loophole. In our disciplines, our faith, our relationship with the Divine. We might even find one – but it will not lead us to a deepness with God. In the end, a short cut cuts short our opportunity to touch the holy; to see what God is doing. It doesn’t mean we won’t pursue them – we will. We’re human. We love things like Cliff’s notes and caffeinated water, but Christ is drawing us to something deeper and purer, something that requires our full attention, our deepest longing, our biggest risks.
So, good pilgrims, in our pursuit of a holy Lent, let’s ditch the loophole. We will likely lose something – sleep, self, comfort, attachment - but like most worthwhile pursuits, it will change our souls forever.
Thanks for Reading.