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  • Writer's pictureVanessa Ryerse

How Lent Went

Some years, I let the Lenten season slip by without a strong involvement. It seems to me that last year, with a small baby and a church building project, I already felt like I had given up enough things and didn't have it in me to wrestle with anything else. But this year, the family joined together to experiment with something we had been curious about for a while: we went vegetarian. We broke our fasts on Sundays as some traditions allow, but for the rest of the time, we explored a new identity for ourselves as non-meat eaters.

Growing up in a rural place where many of the people I knew raised their own meat and gardens as our family did, being vegetarian seems a little nuts. But living in a suburban place as an adult, and recognizing the problems that unchecked demand for meat presents to the environment and to our own health, it is not such a crazy lifestyle. We never really got to the point of trying many meat replacements like tofu or veggie burgers as it seemed like there were plenty of combinations of regular food items to try out. Like many new practices, about a couple of weeks into it, we were sick of it and were counting the days until it was over ... which seemed like a long time! But then, we got used to it and found ourselves just finishing the days without much fuss. It was cheaper and easier in so many ways. Trips to the grocery store seemed faster. I used more convenience foods, to be honest, like bagged salads, and pre-cut veggies, but they were no where near as expensive as meat is.

Growing up as an evangelical fundamentalist Christian, I did not practice Lent. That was something that just Catholics did. My relationship with "spiritual practice" consisted mainly of "discipline." That meant trying to "have devotions" every day, squash down any ugly emotions, and use time wisely. It was almost as if being less human, more machine equalled being more holy. To be fair, I don't think that anyone really intended to send that message, but it was the one I got, LOUD AND CLEAR.  I think of spiritual practice much differently now. I'm not trying to become more holy. I think I am trying to be more human and more alive.

Ironically, the last 40 (plus) days have been disappointing and frustrating. My daily work is changing after many years of being fun and fulfilling. More than one of our plans fell apart along with the dishwasher ... again. It seemed like the kids were constantly sick, especially Whimsy. Lent is a season that allows for sadness and mourning. It's an admission that we go without sometimes. We go without our deepest longings being fulfilled. We go without success or reward even after giving our best. We go without a plan to get where we would like to be. With all this going without, what's a little meat? It's just a tangible thing that we miss, we think about, we look forward to.

We had no big plan for what we would learn from being vegetarian. But the practice did teach us.

I learned that I could think of myself differently ... at an identity level, I could be a vegetarian. I wonder how many things we don't do because we think we are "not that person." Acting our way into an identity is kind of great ... it's how I've become a runner, a mosaic artist, a person with our finances under control, an adoptive parent.   

  1. I learned that I could go without and still really enjoy things. Several times we had meals with friends or dates that normally would have meant indulging in a big meat-centered meal. Vegetarian fajitas didn't take away from laughing with friends one bit. Family time was still family time with a mushroom pizza instead of bacon and pepperoni.    

  2. I learned that there is no magic wand. I will never be perfect. So even though we were doing this great experiment with being vegetarian, we still were in a boring slump when all we wanted to do was watch Netflix and be kind of grumpy. I struggled with hormones and insomnia and total frustration on more than one day. Triumph with a really good quiche didn't take away the other failures. 

As we reached Holy Week, I both anticipated the end of the Lent and dreaded it. I have a love-hate relationship with the services at Vintage, starting with Maundy Thursday, where we wash each other's feet. Then Good Friday when we re-hash the story of Jesus dying. Holy Saturday is the worst. At home, I am prepping for Easter by cleaning, doing yard work, planning Easter dinner and Easter clothes and Easter baskets and Easter eggs and then I have to stop at my most productive hour and go sit Shiva for Jesus. It is dark and uncomfortable and annoying ... and it is intimate, precious, and engaging. It brings our whole selves to Easter. We celebrate our brains out that day because we have actually gone without something. We have lost things. We have sat quietly with our own grief.  

Ironically, Holy Week and spring break were the same. Poor liturgical pastor's kids.  

"Sorry, gang, we can't go away this week. We have to offer awkward services that are sparsely attended and make people a little uncomfortable!" (Brushes with the Divine are rarely easy.) 

To make up for it, I asked my friends to show my kids some extra love and attention. And they did because they are awesome like that. And even though I was internally tortured (which I usually am) about how much I needed to accomplish, I took some time to spend alone with each of my four amazing children. I don't know if meant anything to them, but I know that it meant something to me to be able to focus on them, listen to them, find out things about them, and just enjoy them. I truly loved my time with them, which is something parents always attempt and rarely attain.

So that's how Lent went.  I will post some of my favorite recipes from this soon.  We have already decided to incorporate more vegetarian meals into our ongoing menus, so while I did enjoy a breakfast of ham and eggs wholeheartedly, I am equally looking forward to making another pot of lentil stew very soon.

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