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word and letter…

Being a vegan may actually cure my vegetarianism. I’m not a strict vegetarian, mind you. I don’t keep to it because of lofty reasons or even purely health reasons. I usually avoid meat because frankly, I feel like crap after I eat beef and pork.  So it’s been, I don’t know, like 5 years since I ate beef or pork. I generally do eat fish a few times a month and I’ll eat chicken on occasion.

I have this lush fantasy that one day I will understand vegetables and how best to prepare them, that I will indulge in leafy greens at every single meal, that the colors of the plant variety will surge through my kitchen, lifting and brightening the counters and the walls and our skin and cells and bones…

Doesn’t that sound awesome? I think so.

Truth be told I am still a substandard chef. I do like to cook but I hate critics…and I have a family of critics over here. I’m assured Dave that I will learn to cool beautifully after the kids leave home, I can’t take the constant barrage of “yuck” and “oooooo, what IS this??” coming from my table. For now we stick to the 5-7 vegetarian dishes I do well mixed in with the 5-7 non vegetarian (yet healthy) dishes that are most requested round these parts.  On those nights I make do. It doesn’t suck. I’m not really complaining about that.

I am however complaining that ever since I began Great Lent and the strict fast I am consistently craving beef. Beef in particular. I want a burger….really really bad.

In fact, the craving hit me the day before Clean Monday…to the point that I forced Dave to take us out for excellent burgers at Burger Up here in Nashville. We dragged all 4 kids out late Sunday evening and spent way too much on hamburgers…and it was worth every single penny.

I’m not sure if this has some spiritual dimension…strike that, of course I know it does. When I chose to be (mostly) vegetarian it was something that I felt set me apart, enhanced the “individual” of me, helped me to feel healthier. I had absolute control over that, not some ideology of animal rights or healthy eating. It was all according to my wants and desires that day. Great Lent represents to me some outside force putting a rule down on me…which stirs up that inner punk rocker…and yet, and then…the grown up in me gets a voice.  I need some accountability. I want accountability. I am choosing Orthodoxy not because it’s convenient (because it’s not) or because it makes me feel good (because often, it does not) or because it places everything within my control (because it absolutely does not.)  I chose Orthodoxy in the search of the larger story, to find where I fit in the world…visible and invisible. Part of that in practice means that I subscribe to the concepts of fasting and prayer…dictated in part, according to the church calender, not my own whim.  This is not to say that I won’t also fast and pray when I feel so led.  I simply agree that the traditions of the ages have a voice in my life now, that I am a part of the entire history of the faith by entering into these practices at prescribed times as well.

And then there was yesterday…when I was faced with this other thought. I’m not forcing my family into a vegan lifestyle this Lenten season. Perhaps I will next year after my conversion will be sealed in Chrismation but this year, they get a pass. So yesterday after cleaning the retreat house to get ready for a rental I was exhausted, the kids had eaten only snacks all day (because I don’t keep fresh food out at the house) and we were all hungry. We stopped at Sonic where they happily chose their own favorite crap food to eat. I stared at the menu and nearly cried. I was hungry, friends. Really bloomin hungry.  So I chose the only foods that satisfy the strict fast…onion rings and french fries.

And I felt satiated, for about 5 minutes…and then I felt like crap…and wished I could have at least have had the chicken wrap to avoid fried food.

This is when I understood something deeper. If being a “vegan” for 40 days moves me to a place of eating crap just to fulfill the letter of the law I wonder if I am, in reality, doing it wrong. We don’t cease to be the temple of the Holy Spirit during this strict fast. If I understand it correctly, we are cleaning out the temple, getting it ready for company, for celebration. My version of this fast was half hearted, I was cleaning for company by pushing crap under the couches and it wasn’t okay with me.

Today begins a new view of the strict fast…one which focuses on being “clean” rather than being a good “rule follower.”  There is still sacrifice here, I am still subscribing to the practice of the season. I am not going to do it at the expense of the temple however. It means thinking ahead more, it means offering myself grace and listening to my body, it means offering more prayer in the moment – a lot more prayer in the moment…and seeing where it takes me.