There are certain Lenten things that we do as a standard way of operating in our house. We go to Mass together and receive ashes. We fast. We break the fast after the sun sets with a simple dinner of vegetarian black bean soup (the recipe is as the end, in case you are interested). These things are just the way we have celebrated for years (although it seems like forever). It's simple. But it is a ritual that, for me, says "Ash Wednesday" (and, in some ways, "Good Friday", since we fast and have the soup again on GF). As funny as it may sound, for me it is a way to begin being more aware of penance because I hate black bean soup. Okay, that's not really very nice; I strongly dislike black beans. I made it the first year because of that; I figured that it was a way to do something out of the norm, that I didnt want to do, and to be grateful. Because I'm able to not want a certain food... Because I take for granted the fact that I can not just eat, but eat what I want. So, on days of fast, it's black bean soup. (Peter likes BBS, so this is not the same thing for him, but for me, it puts me in a special place and starts me on a special journey).
But, each year, as people discuss what to give up for these forty days (chocolate and Facebook seem to be the big winners I'm hearing), Peter and I are taken to a different place in our Lenten traditions. It's probably been a good five years since we gave up on giving something up. I'm not sure what brought us to that place on our journey, but we both had the feeling that it felt... for us... like something was missing. Like it was too easy. Oh, I'll just give up (insert the addiction of choice here) and then, on Sundays if I want or at the end of Lent I can just have it and LOTS OF IT. I'm sure this isnt how it is for everyone, but giving up coffee or chocolate for me was basically a countdown until when I could have it again. There was sacrifice, sure, but it wasnt as sacrificial as I think the penitent season had in mind.
I was reminded of this recently when Jenni, a fellow blogger, posted to her FB asking what folks are doing for Lent. She comes from a faith practice that doesnt traditionally celebrate Ash Wednesday and the following days of sacrifice until Resurrection, so she had a variety of responses. This was mine:
"We consider Lent a time of penitence. While "giving something up" is a nice idea, and sometimes we do that, we see it as a time of taking something on as well. One year, we committed to attending morning Mass, every day of Lent. So, I dont think you have to give up something, like a favorite food. It should be about doing something that brings you closer to God: if that's giving something up, then I think that's great. If it's taking something on, then that's great too. But I think that all too often people just pick something, give it up, and dont think twice about it. Then there are those who have no formal rituals, but give themselves fully to the season of penitence that Lent should be."
Last night, after we'd put the kids to bed, Peter and I discussed our Lent 2012. And we came to a few conclusions. First, as always, we'll observe the fasts and abstinence days (fasting on AW and GF, abstinence from meats on Fridays). However, we normally practice Church abstinence on Fridays and eat something like pasta, a vegetarian soup or chili (with meat substitute) or have a fish dish. So, that isn't really a sacrifice (traditionally, abstinence of Fridays happened on all Fridays, not just those in Lent). So, we'll be going vegan on Fridays. No animal products (including fish) or by-products (milk, eggs, etc) and we wont be using "fake" meats (like Quorn, Morningstar, etc) to try and replicate meats. While it's not hard because we spent so many years as vegetarians and I dabbled them (and actually, more now) in vegan cooking, it is a sacrifice to make the effort, regardless of if we are entertaining people or out to eat. (Although, we dont really do a lot of out-to-eat during Lent, as we are trying to be more socially conscience and aware).
But moving on to the not-giving-up. Weekly:
- We will go to Adoration as a family, including the kids. While we also would like to go by ourselves for a longer period of Adoration and plan to include that in the week, we are going to go with the kids, outside of attending Mass. Our chapel is open 24 hours a day, so there are no excuses. We can go anytime. On the way to a playground, on the way home from the store. Whenever. We will go in, pray (the children are great at behaving when we go to the Shrine and we all pray in from of the icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa, so I think that this will go relatively smoothly). We tell the kids that Jesus is in the consecrated Host, so when they see one, they will point and say "Jesus" and want to pray. (For example, after Mass this morning, Maya and I knelt in front of the Altar and Tabernacle and she crossed herself, pointed, and said "Jesus.") So, weekly family Adoration. It may be less than 5 minutes, but one day, it will be longer. That is what I'm reminding myself.
- We will go to daily Mass (individually). Peter will go to the chapel near his office that has a lunchtime Mass. I will get up extra early and go to the 6:30am Mass at our parish. (Honestly, I've thought of this before... Just havent done it... I can run to the Church is 15-20 minutes (it's 2 miles away) and I've often thought of running, going to Mass, and running home.)
- We will pray the Rosary. I try to pray the Rosary several times a week, but there are times that I fall behind and it's either read the daily reading, pray the Rosary, or keep a kid from hurting themselves. Lately, I havent been as diligent and, if I get a Decade in, I'm doing well. I try to do a Decade with the kids (and they like it). It may be a Decade with the kids and then finishing the full Rosary on our own individually, but that's fine. (Rosary Info)
- We will give of our home to others. A friend of mine explained that Catholics dont tithe; they sacrificially give. While it may be semantics to some, the idea of "sacrificially giving" resonates with me. For this reason, when we give a bag to SVDP for the food bank collection, we dont go out and buy food; we take from our cupboards. Giving of what we have, what we want and bought for ourselves. Sacrificing. Sacrificially giving. This year, a new way of penance will be to give a bag to our local food bank, each week, taken from our pantry.
There are a few other things that I really want to strive to do, like make sure I read my daily devotions, that I take time to do yoga when I'm not teaching (and not just the 10 minutes I do daily, but a real "class-for-me" so that I can focus internally and reconnect with the Divine in meditation, that I volunteer for the Church weekly (which, I'll be volunteering in the parish school library each week, so that will be that, but if I cant for some reason, that I do something else, even if it is just that hour of Adoration... but something). But the above is what we, as a family, have committed to do this Lenten season. The list may seem long, but it's minor in comparison to what we are focusing on. The days leading up to the Paschal Triduum are just a small taste of what we are emotionally and spiritually reliving on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday.
The priest this morning asked that we think about Lents passed and ponder how Lent will be different this year. That we stop trying to achieve an A on the perceived report card from God, and start living each and every day as penitents, striving to achieve a closer connection to the Divine. His homily was, in my opinion, inspired. And, as I think about it, I'm left with this thought. We come into Lent, a season of penance, prepared to 'give up' to bring us closer to God, waiting for the end, for Resurrection Sunday, when we can revert back to our old ways, when we can take back what we've given up, when we can resurrect the old. Can we resurrect something- someone- new? Can we take the herald of Spring and new life and resurrection, and come to something greater? Can we be reborn... can our prison of penance rehabilitate us into better human beings? Greater stewards of Mother Earth? Renew us in a greater love for one another?
I want to say yes. I want to hope yes. I want to be what Gandhi imagined when he said "Be the change you wish to see in the world."
So, this Lent, that is my focus. That's where my mind is.
Where is your mind taking you?
Lenten Vegan Black Bean Soup
(modified from "Fresh From the Vegetarian Slow Cooker")
1 medium sweet onion (diced)
1 medium carrot (diced)
1 medium red bell pepper (diced)
2 tbsp minced garlic
2 cans (15.5oz) black beans (dont drain or rinse)
1 large can (14.5oz) diced tomatoes (dont drain or rinse)
4 cups vegetable stock
2 bay leaves
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp chili powder blend
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
rice and chopped onions for serving (optional)
Toss all the ingredients in a slow cooker and cook on low for 8 hours. Puree half of the soup before adding it back in. Serve over rice and add raw chopped onions, if you'd like.
4 servings. calories per serving (without the rice and raw onions/svg suggestion): 400 calories