Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Even though it's after midnight and I broke my fast and polished off the ice cream (I did not give up ice cream for Lent, don't worry), I'm still counting this as Wednesday, for purposes of this post. As one of my coworkers put it, it's National Catholic Dirty Forehead Day.

While I don't endeavor to use my itty corner of the internets to proselytize, I think it is worth noting briefly what Lent is actually all about - Catholics are sufficiently numerous in the US that the outward features of our culture and religious praxis are fairly prominent, but that doesn't tell people why we do all these strange things, and I think the reasons can be interesting to others.

Anyway, Catholics don't give up things for Lent or abstain from meat on Fridays (there are a few other things too, but those are the ones everyone knows about) because they're generally repressed. In brief: Lent is six weeks during which Catholics prepare for Easter - the arrival of the risen Christ. It's a season of preparation and penance - sacrifices are a form of prayer that invoke God's blessings, in this case to help us to be spiritually ready, and fasting also creates room in our hearts to receive something. If this doesn't sound intuitive, well, I guess you have to try it. Having a bit of a feast and singing Alleluias at the top of your lungs after fasting for weeks and not being able to say that celebratory word swells your heart far more than feasting on any ordinary day - your body is ready for expansiveness, so your heart is too.

Oh, last point: the Catholic Church actually encourages three spiritual practices during Lent - prayer, fasting, and almsgiving (giving to the poor). So, carving out room in your heart; recollecting yourself through daily prayer; and giving to those who have nothing.

I won't waste paragraphs noting all the ways in which these ideas say something about infertility - the parallels seem so obvious to me I can't imagine they need to be spelled out. But I was standing in church, this evening, trying to remember not to rub my ashes off by accident, and I was thinking. There's something I'm missing, just at the edge of realizing, that I need to understand - about what all this means, why I'm here, what I need to be doing. Maybe six weeks of fasting and prayer will help me to understand it.

OK, I'll draw one parallel. I with my childless home, I walk around with a barely-under-the-surface sign of my defectiveness, my weakness, my inadequacy, when I want to be healthy and vital and whole. Every day. And one day a year, I walk around with a cross of ash on my forehead. Remember, man, that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.


  1. And just for a historian's aside, Lent also falls in Northern Europe, at least, during the leanest, hardest part of the year, that tail end of winter when there is nothing left to eat and nothing growing yet. When the animals were at their thinnest and most delicate. So people would fast, bundle themselves up, and lay low until Easter, when the hope of not-starving returned, along with the sacred promise of spiritual redemption. Without Lent, many families would not have survived, I bet. It must have made Easter so joyful.

  2. Through my life I have given up many things hard for me for lent, TV, candy, sweets, desserts, etc. It always felt like such a sacrifice but I bet I could do better.

    ICLW - best of luck with your sacrifice and preparation.

  3. oh I sure hope your house will not be child free much longer - i know how that feels

  4. Thanks for the reminder of what Lent is about. I am not Catholic, but I have always liked the idea of Lent. For a few years, I even gave up something for lent. Just not motivated to do it this year.

  5. Thanks for explaining that because although I knew about it I never really knew for sure the reason.

  6. When I was a kid, I really disliked Lent. Church seemed really dull, it came at my least favourite time of year, and honestly I just didn't get it.
    Now I cherish this time of preparation. Like advent helps to ready my heart for Christmas, I know that the celebration of Easter would be less in my heart without the sacrifice of lent.
    Thank you for sharing!

  7. Thank you for explaining about Lent, it is a good reminder for both non-Catholics and Catholics.

    I also wanted to thank you for the information about my new kitty man. I knew he had some Siamese in him but didn't know all the other information. We adopted him from a shelter so those details are few. My best guess (knowing where he came from) is that he is a mix of some sort. We are just thrilled to have him and to be able to give a kind life to this guy. Thank you for the information. :-)