ash wednesday

(I wrote this two years ago for Ash Wednesday, which, by the way, fell on March 1.  So early this year.)

I decided to fast today.  I’ve fasted on Ash Wednesday before.  I know it’s a traditional ritual associated with the start of the forty day period before Easter.  I know all that.  But I still rarely ‘get’ Ash Wednesday.  But I fasted anyway.

Skipping breakfast was easy.  I had class at 8:00 and 9:00 and then work.  We celebrated a birthday in the office.  I politely declined the fruit tart and homemade coconut cake.  The whole time still wondering what this whole Ash Wednesday thing is about.  Especially after hearing people talk about Len adn putting down people’s decisions to give up food-related things.  I’m giving up sweets.  Yes, I’ve done it before, so yes I know it can be done.  But it’s not about dieting-for-Jesus.  It truly is about discipline.  And that’s where I need it.  And, besides, I think that is a good deal of the ‘point’ of Lent–discipline, self-denial.  Even if it is in the silly things like soda or cookies.  A priviledged person’s suffering, I suppose.

But then there’s this whole question of Ash Wednesday.  Why am I denying myself of all food today?  Is it wrong that I made the decision to do so without a truly full articulation of why?  I don’t think so.  I think sometimes we learn–extract meaning–through the doing.

As I was talking with someone about the whole thing, we’re talking about sacrifice, self-denial, temporality–my stomach was growling.  And I begin to understand my choice for this day.  I am hungry.  I haven’t eaten in a long time–a long time for me, that is, being measured not in days or weeks, but in hours.  And I noticed my thoughts changing.  I was not as pleasant at work–more frustrated with little things as lunchtime approached, which really only meant for me another meal I would not be eating.  Throughout the day I found myself already fixated on tomorrow’s breakfast.  It will taste quite good.

Today I am reminded of my own humanity.  Reminded of my temporal needs.  And that they come so easily for me (at any time today I could have munched away the hunger).  I realized even more how much everything is connected. Especially for us as people–and especially through food.  I haven’t seen many people today because food is enjoyed (should be enjoyed) in community, and relationships are sustained as our bodies are sustained.  And my brain is slow–my body is tired.  It’s 8:30 p.m. and I’m ready to sleep so I can wake up for breakfast.  I wonder what this process would feel like–what my experience would amount to were I to attempt multiple days of this.  And this isn’t come kind of 30 Hour Famine attempt at solidarity.  It’s not about ‘hungry’ or ‘poor’ people (though I admit, I have thought of ‘them’ more than a few times today.  The irony that it is still about them and me, who has the luxury of fasting on purpose.)

I read T. S. Eliot’s poem Ash Wednesday, in hopes of clarification.  As I began the poem I laughed at myself–clarification? really? from Eliot?  Then I finished the poem.  It’s good.  No, I don’t totally ‘get’ it, but it’s about being content in the knowing and not knowing.  It’s about Just Being.  Being still and letting God be God.  We are human. We are temporary.  let the world whirl around the World and let God show mercy.


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