The absence of Ash Wednesday offers some grief for me. I like those ashes, damn it. I liked the feeling of having them placed on my forehead, I liked wearing them out into the world. I like this.
I suppose what I liked most was the reminder of being ash. The deeper thought and feeling there being the very transient nature of the body, the eternal nature of the spirit, the real possibility of embracing it all well during this life. I liked that.
In Orthodoxy we celebrate instead, Clean Monday.
This is new, this fasting for 40 days not of something I get to choose but sacrificing alongside the multitude of fellow pilgrims the elements of olive oil, meat and dairy products. Essentially we become Vegans for 40 days beginning…erm…well today actually.
Technically, I have a loophole. I’m not yet Chrismated therefore my fast doesn’t have the same, I don’t know, accountability. For me, it’s kind of a testing of the spirits…I don’t mind begin Vegan, I kind of dig the Vegan approach anyhow. What bugs me is that I need to also prepare food for my family…and my family isn’t becoming Orthodox. The question becomes, since I’m in charge of this whole, “family eating gig” do I subject them to the fast or make allowances or a little of both? It’s already stressful for me to plan meals, not my giftedness, people, ask anyone. Now I need to plan meals around this stipulation and perhaps make some alternate foods for meat/dairy loving folk.
Why even try this? My life is complicated enough isn’t it?
I suppose I’m motivated by the idea of beginning clean…instead of beginning a season of sorrow and sacrifice with this idea that I am broken and deteriorating. I begin clean…it’s like a new baptism every year in my estimation, turning over a new leaf…and I need a new leaf. Too much and too often I fall into such a state that I don’t even know what I’m eating, where I’m going, what I’m saying. It’s confusing, this world. Nothing is simple, nothing is easy.
This Great Lent affords me something, something simple, something clean…clear, unpolluted water to fill me up. And yet, I know something about beginning clean too…what is outside of us is where the “clean” lives when we start. It’s the pantry, the refrigerator, the cabinets that begin clean, not the body. The body begins polluted, a year of living malnourished no matter how we try to pull ourselves out of it. We’re surrounded by things to dirty the nous, it’s a no brainer to choose poorly. What comes of surrounding myself with all things clean is that I have the CHANCE, finally, to embrace the good, the right, the ready. What comes of taking in the “clean” is not as simple as “take and eat and be clean…” at least on a physical level. Eating clean means that the body starts to shed things, water, toxins, fat, pollution…sometimes eating clean makes us sick before we can feel better. The body needs time, about 40 days, actually, to clean itself out. In a sense, what happens BIOLOGICALLY after a 40 day cleanse like this is that our bodies actually begin clean at Easter then…not at the start of Great Lent. Pascha becomes the end and the beginning…
It’s an interesting thought…that we begin clean on Clean Monday….on the outside….and that on a physical level at least, we end clean when we greet, finally, the Resurrection. As it should be…