Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the liturgical season of Lent.
Lent is a time of preparation before Holy Week, the week preceding Easter. Though we are not entirely sure, Lent is believed to have begun as an intensive period of preparation for catechumens (converts under training) who will ultimately be baptized at the Easter Vigil. By the time of Augustine, this period of preparation for the forty days leading up to Easter became a practice for all Christians. During these forty days it became customary practice to fast from meats, except for on Sundays, to embody the same kind of preparation Jesus had undergone when he went out into the wilderness to fast and resist temptations for forty days before the start of his public ministry (Mark 1:12-13; Matt. 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-12). While certainly not all traditions observe Lent--and many evangelical traditions merely practice giving up things for Lent rather than fasting from meats--Lent can be a crucial time of contemplation and resistance.
For the past two years I have been increasingly interested in the traditional observance of Lent by fasting from meat until the Easter Vigil. Since becoming fully engaged with Theologies of Food, I have found Lent to be an important opportunity for Christians to rethink their eating behaviors, diets, resources or economies. In my previous post where I offer a starting point for those interested in theologies of food, I explained that our greatest problem with food is that food has become commodified. I say this however with the sincere understanding that I too struggle with this poor relationship with food and as such I have been contemplating how Lent this year can be an opportunity for me to undo this commodification and get to know food in a different light.
I thought long and hard about what it is I could abstain from or what I can practice this year. Should I give up meat again? Should I only purchase local foods? Should I avoid fast food? Should I not eat out at all? Should I cook more?
While any one of these would certainly prove to cure a powerful Lenten experience, this year I have felt the need to keep it simple and begin with one of the easiest--or perhaps one of the hardest--practices with food: mindful eating.
Much like prayer, mindfulness at the table is a chance to consider what sits in front of you. To look at food and know it. It is a chance to silence the grumbling of ones stomach for a moment and to think about food differently; and to understand and acknowledge the connection between yourself, God and nature through the medium of food.
This year for Lent, I am keeping it simple. I am taking only two minutes (which feels much longer when you're hungry) to not dig in, to look at my plate, to be quite and to simply let God speak from the plate.
"By the sweat of your face
You will eat bread,
Till you return to the ground,
Because from it you were taken;
For you are dust,
And to dust you shall return.”
- Genesis 3:19
This is how we begin Lent. This verse is spoken at Ash Wednesday services all around. It calls us back to the Garden where the first food story was cultivated and where we first went wrong with how we consider food. And so my next forty days of mindful eating begins with a solemn contemplation of food. How I, just like Eve and Adam, took a second glance at food and thought of it as mine for the taking.