I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Lenten ruminations

Norma Jean and me, long long ago
Do you know what Lent is? It's the period of time between Ash Wednesday and Easter, and was originally begun by Christians to fast and pray for those 40-odd days between, to purify the body and soul before the holiest day of the Liturgical Calendar, Easter. Those two little girls knew nothing about all this, but they were dressed in their Easter finery, on our way to an Easter egg hunt, where we would fill our Easter baskets with colored hard-boiled eggs and candy. Although we didn't go to any church, we followed the traditions of the season because, well, that's just what one did in those days.

Over the many years between today and when those little girls dressed up in their Easter finery, I joined several churches and actually learned the meaning of Lent. It's observed in the Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran, Methodist, and Roman Catholic Churches. Some Anabaptist and evangelical churches also observe the Lenten season. (Information I learned from that link.) I first joined the Episcopal Church, which is Anglican, and that first year I gave up eating meat during Lent.

I think that was the first time in my life that I actually gave much thought to the ubiquitous presence of meat in my daily diet. We grew up in a family that always had some sort of meat, potatoes, and a vegetable on the dinner table. Usually a canned vegetable such as green beans or maybe corn. I remember when my mother discovered instant mashed potatoes, we endured them daily, because they were so much easier to prepare than peeling and preparing them from scratch.

But vegetables? They were nothing much, as I recall, and we ate them because we had to. Sometimes we had a salad, if you can call it that, just sliced or diced tomatoes and iceberg lettuce, along with maybe a bit of grated carrot. But when Mama really cooked, she made excellent dishes. It's just that in my memory, it was rare that we deviated from the usual fare. On Saturdays we had hamburgers, but when I try to recall any really excellent meals that we had, other than on holidays, my memory comes up blank.

However, that Lenten season so long ago when I gave up eating meat changed the way I thought about food. I never again ate meat every day, and many years ago I became a vegetarian. These days, however, I eat a bit of chicken every now and then, and fish more often. I live in the Pacific Northwest, and salmon is wonderful here, so we eat it a few times a month. For health reasons, I stopped eating red meat and now it's been decades since I had any at all. The smell of bacon is tantalizing, and it's the only one that even attracts me (although I don't eat it ever). For some reason, of all the meats I remember eating growing up, the only one that actually repels me these days is pork. I don't remember when it started, but it's been so long now that I wonder why I have such a strong aversion to it. Here's some information about pork:
Pork is the most widely eaten meat in the world, accounting for about 38% of meat production worldwide. Consumption varies widely from place to place. The meat is taboo to eat in the Middle East and most of the Muslim world because of Jewish kosher and Islamic Halal dietary restrictions. 
I remember when I was in western China and we had breakfast served in our hotel. There was a hot dish labeled "Bacon," but when I looked inside there were very thin slices of beef that had been fried in some kind of fat and seasoned. Definitely not bacon, but in that part of the world no pork was ever consumed, I learned. It was very easy to eat a balanced and healthy diet, though, because vegetables and legumes were plentiful. And during those visits to China, I learned to love congee. What is it? Congee is probably the most common mainstay of the Chinese breakfast, a mild-flavored rice porridge that has been cooked for a long time with plenty of water to soften the rice. To give the congee some flavor, it is usually served with different toppings, such as pickled vegetables, fermented tofu, peanuts, and eggs. I liked the pickled vegetables the most and piled plenty of them into the congee bowl.

How did I get off on that subject? I was thinking about how giving up meat for Lent that one time changed the way I approached my diet. And now I'm sitting here thinking about food, instead of my original thought about today's post. Frankly, when I first sat down to write, nothing came to mind, except that we are in the Lenten season, and that is the only reason you are reading about it. I was completely without any good ideas, so I decided to just wing it, and here I am getting hungry, thinking about that congee.

One year, I gave up chocolate for Lent. Interestingly, though, as soon as it was over, I went right back to enjoying and eating chocolate, in contrast to giving up meat. Have you ever thought of giving up something that you enjoy for any length of time? It's fascinating how we can get into ruts of thinking, or eating, or routine of any sort, that becomes a part of one's daily habits, and that we can continue those habits long after they serve any purpose. Sometimes becoming aware of them and making a change can alter one's life. It happened to me.

It's been a long time since I've observed Lent. And it's been a long time since I dressed up for Easter, like we did in that picture from long ago. Dressed in pretty pastel dresses with white shoes and socks, those little girls were the apples of their parents' eyes, and at that time it was just the two of us, Norma Jean and I, with our sister PJ not coming along until I was seven. I wonder if Mama made those dresses for us; I wouldn't be surprised, because she was an accomplished seamstress and made many of our special outfits. I am feeling a little nostalgic this morning, thinking about times past and beloved people long gone.

Soon it will be time to get up and start my day, going to the coffee shop to join my friends there. I'll be going to the movies this afternoon with my friend Judy, so the day has already got some shape to it. And we'll be expecting a little bit of sunshine for a change as well. I read that we have already had all the rain we usually have in an entire year, and it's only March. I usually don't have as much problem with the constant rain, but right now I'm sure ready for it to stop. Today would be lovely.

And with that, I find that I am at the end of my Lenten post. I hope that whatever you do this week, until we meet again, it will be fulfilling and satisfying. That's what I'm hoping for myself as well. Don't forget to appreciate those you love, be they family, friends, or furry companions. Be well, dear ones.


Marie Smith said...

Memories of Lent during my youth all relate to giving up something like you said, chocolate and bread come to mind.. I focus on doing more these days rather than giving up some item. Whatever works I guess.

Hilary said...

I posted about this on April 7, 2009. My daughter and I had read "Skinny Bitch" and we agreed to give up meat for 30 days.
After the 30 days, she started eating meat again. I never did.

I do eat fish occasionally, and shrimp, rarely.

If I did ever decide to eat meat, chicken would be the LAST thing I would ever eat.
To be honest, I don't miss meat at all, and I think I am better off for not eating it.

Rian said...

We always gave up sweets (including chocolate) for Lent... as it was always the hardest thing to do as a child (not too easy these days either). Meat has never been a favorite of mine, although we do eat it sparingly. I also prefer chicken and fish and don't care too much for pork (although I do like bacon). Living in New Orleans, we ate a lot of seafood... especially on Fridays and during Lent. And yes, we have pics of us as kids dressed up with fancy dresses and Easter hats - since I was a tomboy (do they still use that term?), I hated it... and you could tell from my pics. Truth be told, I still don't like dressing up. But Spring is here and Easter is a few weeks off - and I WILL enjoy seeing the little ones dressed up in their Easter finery.

Linda Reeder said...

Back in the days when I did go to church, all through my childhood and early adult life, we did dress up for Easter, but we never practiced giving anything up for lent in our church. We were aware that the Catholics did, and they were the reason there was always fish on the school lunch menu on Fridays.
I have never given up eating any particular food, and even now, when I am back to counting calories, I still eat a little bit of everything, including chocolate. But I have cut way back on the amount of meat I eat, even as I still cook it for Tom. I don't miss it much.
We are looking forward to a day of sunshine. There will be a walk this morning, and then this afternoon we'll go into the city for the home opener of the Sounders season. A good day! I hope yours is too.

Gigi said...

Fridays during Lent finds me searching out meat alternative meals - usually some type of seafood.

I don't know that I could actually give up meat completely though. I know I need to cut back though and need to make that a priority.

Unknown said...

WhenI became ill, I cut way back on meat. Then I started volunteering at the zoo. The gorillas participate in heart health studies. Since they are 98% the same as human primates, I follow with great interest. Why? Because despite their vegetarianism, constant excercise and carefully controlled weight, the number one killer of primates is heart disease. It made mecrethink meat eating. Heart disease is a primate problem, not a meat problem. Hmmmm? From Lent to meat. How did I get here? Thanks for oriming my thinking pump.

Elephant's Child said...

Lent was never something we participated in.
I too am vegetarian, though these days I sometimes eat fish.
I don't miss the meat though.
Enjoy your week. Stay safe, stay well - and send us some of your rain.

Anonymous said...

I used to be a Roman Catholic, but now I am an atheist and a non-believer.
As for meat, I like it a lot and could never be a vegan.

Red said...

I have never observed the lenten season and I've never given up a certain food for a set length of time. I did give up milk and sugar in my coffee and tea about 1970 and have never used them since. I did give up butter on toast and bread and have never used them since. I guess I have given up some foods.

Tabor said...

I am not at all religious, but Lent is something I find very attractive as a way of getting ones's mind back in order. I do not observe,but I think I should.

Rita said...

I grew up Methodist, but I don't remember giving up anything for Lent. Odd. Maybe our pastor didn't talk about Lent or maybe I didn't listen--LOL!

You two look so cute. I do remember having to get dressed up for Easter. (Something I never liked to do--ever.) It was usually cold and there was often snow on the ground so those little dresses were no fun at all. We had little short coats to go with them, but they were pretty useless living in the land of parkas. ;)

Trish and Rob MacGregor said...

I haven't eaten red meat since listening to Diet for a New America while driving across the Hopi reservations. I do eat chicken and fish, though. I know what you mean about the smell of bacon, though. Tantalizing, but no thanks. The thought of pork disgusts me.

Far Side of Fifty said...

We like meat and vegetables! Really good pork cooked well is one of our favorites. We have a neighbor that raisers hogs, it is out of this world with flavor. We eat fish and like salmon and catfish.
I recall having to give something up for lent as a teenager, it is all about suffering you know so you can identify with Jesus on the cross. We always had fish on Friday at school on account of the catholic kids. I think I gave up chewing gum one year...
You and your sister are sure cute in the photo:)

Sally Wessely said...

Religious practices and observations take on so many different expressions as evidenced by your post.

The Broad said...

You brought back a lot of memories for me! This year like most years I gave up wine, which I am rather partial to having with dinner. I, too was brought up in the Episcopal Church and now that I live in England I attend the Church of England. I find that regular attendance helps to keep my life in order and less chaotic. Also like you, I had a sister, younger than I and thanks to the sewing skills of my grandmother we dressed elegantly and alike! It was always up in the air in New England as to what kind of weather Easter would bring -- and as often as not it was raining or on occasion even snowing! Rarely was there sunshine and daffodils!! And black patent leather 'MaryJanes' were the usual shoes. We always had new dresses and usually a new Spring coat and hat. Sad was the Easter when the weather was cold and we had to don Winter regalia... I do eat meat, but not on Friday and not every day.

Arkansas Patti said...

I really wish I had given up meat years ago like you did and stuck with it. I probably wouldn't have a pacemaker rattling around my chest if I had. I have since given up red meat and added lots of plant based foods. However Ozzie's comment gave me pause with the ape study. Perhaps the stress of captivity was a big factor there. I'd hate to think the things I have give up lately have been for naught.
I was pretty much a Lenten weenie. I gave up things I really liked but didn't often get anyway--like pie.

John's Island said...

Hi DJan, You said, “I was thinking about how giving up meat for Lent that one time changed the way I approached my diet.” That reminded me of a similar experience I had a few years ago. I was on a cruise ship and went to the buffet for breakfast. I happened to notice some Asian people in the line in front of me who were getting big bowls of soup. It had never occurred to me to have soup for breakfast. I decided to try it myself. It was miso soup … sort of salty. It was delicious, but more importantly, it changed my assumptions about what to eat for any meal. Later, on that same cruise, there was a different soup available at breakfast. This time I was looking forward to trying it. As I filled a bowl a lady behind me said, “Too early for soup!” I just looked at her and smiled. As I was enjoying that soup I thought of how she was missing something delicious! Sometimes we are stuck in our ways, aren’t we? Thanks, as always, for an interesting Eye! PS You also said, “I usually don't have as much problem with the constant rain, but right now I'm sure ready for it to stop.” Made me smile … Couldn’t agree more! :-)

Stella Jones said...

No, I don't give up anything for Lent. I seem to live on a permanently restrictive diet anyway! I do, however, think about Lent. It's a good idea to do some thinking sometimes!This week I've been thinking mostly about the atrocity outside the House of Parliament over here and how it has affected so many families. Mustn't get out of perspective though, because our war planes are doing their bit in other parts of the world - all in the name of peace. Every year at Easter or Ostara as it affects me mostly, I feel the joy of new birth and rebirth and that is a good thing. It's a time for new beginnings and new resolutions, again in the name of peace.
The picture of you and your sister is delightful and if your mum did make those dresses, she did a grand job!
Over here today is mothers' day so our thoughts are all about our mothers and all they did for us.
Have a great Sunday.