Today is the first Friday of Lent—no meat for those observing Lenten practices. And here’s some interesting Catholic trivia I found while looking up Lenten fasting: “abstinence,” which in this case refers to not eating meat, does not include “meat juices and liquid foods made from meat. Thus, such foods as chicken broth, consommé, soups cooked or flavored with meat, meat gravies or sauces, as well as seasonings or condiments made from animal fat are not forbidden. So it is permissible to use margarine and lard.” Mmm! Also, “even bacon drippings which contain little bits of meat may be poured over lettuce as seasoning,” and (thank goodness someone has cleared this up once and for all), “no one considers gelatin or Jell-O to be meat” (Father John Huels, The Pastoral Companion). So you can’t eat a burger, but you could eat, say, a salad with lots of bacon bits, or even pasta with marinara sauce. And in case it was theological doubt holding you back, go right ahead and enjoy that Jell-O, guilt-free.
Like almost every woman in the Western world, where we have the luxury of worrying about eating too much, food is sometimes often almost always an issue for me. I have used it to play out a variety of neuroses over the years—mostly by hypochondriacally imbuing it with magical healing powers–and have practiced vegetarianism, veganism, low carb/high proteinism, and most disastrously, macrobiotics. I once asked one of my friends who is up on a lot of Asian practices what he knew about macrobiotics and he said, “I think it involves a lot of small containers.”
A few weeks ago, I was talking with my dad about what he and my mother plan to do after they retire in June. Somehow the conversation got around to where they wanted to live, “down the road,” which I took to mean when they are quite a bit older, and when they may need more help. My parents and siblings live on the east coast and I live in Illinois, which I believe my east coast father thinks of as “the prairie.” I told him that they were very welcome to live near us, mentioned the lower cost of living, the relatively good healthcare, the proximity to us, and he said, “Well, the thing is that you have terrible weather. All year.”
About seven years ago, Jack Kornfield, meditation teacher, writer and psychotherapist, wrote a book called After the Ecstasy, the Laundry. As someone who feels pressured by concepts like enlightenment and mindfulness, I was thrilled when I first saw this book. Its common-sense title gave me a secret feeling of relief. I hoped it meant that I wasn’t the only person who was deeply uncertain about the possibility of finding joy in the mundane aspects of my life. I even hoped it would say that ecstasy isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, just to take the pressure off. But, as when I came across a book in the library called, “Prayers for Dark People,” and giddily assumed it was for people like me who want legitimate space for weirdness and doubt in their faith lives, it didn’t pan out. “The “Prayers for Dark People” turned out to be a book from the 40’s for African Americans, and Kornfield’s book is more about how ecstasy IS actually all it’s cracked up to be. And, with the right mindset, you can find it pretty much anywhere, like the laundry room.