In the fast lane: Tony D’Souza’s Thought for the week

‘It gives me a chance to deepen my spiritual life.’

'We are in the season called Lent. Traditionally, this is when Christians fast for forty days, in preparation for Easter.' | Photo: by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

We are in the season called Lent. Traditionally, this is when Christians fast for forty days, in preparation for Easter. This year, I am rediscovering my roots in that tradition. I am not going to cover myself with sackcloth and ashes, but I have decided to go without certain luxuries (my waistband and the bathroom scales have been crying out for this, too).

But what does Lent mean? The season begins with a carnival, which helps explains it. Carnival is the excess (and in some countries wild and colourful abandon) before Lent begins. Everyone gets a chance to let their hair down and indulge themselves. In Europe, Shrove Tuesday was a day to make pancakes, using up eggs and butter. Emptying the larder of meat, eggs and fat meant overeating, which is why Shrove Tuesday is called Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday.

The word ‘carnival’ is said to come from the Latin carne vale meaning ‘goodbye to meat’. This sums up the festival for me. It comes around once a year and has a formal structure. It gives me a chance to deepen my spiritual life.

There are three elements. Firstly, there is almsgiving. This helps loosen the grip of materialism on our souls. It can also be about offering simple acts of kindness, which help us understand that we are not alone in the world. When we give to others, we are reminded that we are part of the world, not apart from it. As John Donne said, ‘Any man’s death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind.’

Secondly, there is abstinence, which means choosing to go without something. My family is vegetarian, so it’s not that hard for me to go without meat. But I have recently learned more about modern industrial farming practices and this has made it easier. During Lent, I will try harder.

Lastly, there is fasting, which does not mean eating no food, but eating less than normal. If ever there was a spiritual discipline tailored for me, fasting is it. I love every aspect of food: thinking about it, shopping for it, and preparing it. Fasting is wonderful because it gives me a break from this, and there are hidden depths to it, too. When we say ‘goodbye to meat’ the spirit becomes stronger. I’ll finish with what the Persian poet Rumi says about it:

There’s hidden sweetness in the stomach’s emptiness.
We are lutes, no more, no less. If the soundbox
is stuffed full of anything, no music.
If the brain and belly are burning clean
with fasting, every moment a new song comes out of the fire.
The fog clears, and new energy makes you
run up the steps in front of you.

When you fast, good habits gather like friends.
Fasting is Solomon’s ring. Don’t give it
to some illusion and lose your power,
but even if you have, if you’ve lost all will and control,
they come back when you fast[…]
A table descends to your tents, spread with other food,
better than the broth of cabbages.

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