Guest blogger Jerica Arents
This Lent has been, for me, a choir of resounding “no’s”. As part of a Catholic Worker community, we try hard to live in more radical ways, attempting to fashion our internal dialogue in patterns that deliberately put first the poor and the planet. And, along with my six housemates, I wanted to have a bold Lenten fast this year. I wanted to challenge my preconceptions about fasting and discipline and prayer.
So we made communal commitments to fasting from sugar and high fructose corn syrup (and cane derivatives), to withhold our consent from the incredibly alarming human rights abuses of the sugar cane industry and the unsustainable and toxic nature of high fructose corn syrup. We gave up plastic, to remind ourselves that every single piece of plastic we consume and discard will be on our Earth for at least the next million years. And we gave up electricity on Sundays, as a reminder of our culture’s dependence on fuel, to stand in solidarity with billions of people in the Global South, and (most importantly) to intentionally choose rest with others in community.
I was excited about the communal fast until I recognized how hard it was going to be. To be honest, three weeks into Lent feels like decades. The sugar thing was fun until I grasped the reality that high fructose corn syrup is in essentially everything. Nothing processed is fair game. We can’t eat our cranberries, our dumpstered chocolate milk or our cereal. All sweets are off the table, along with most baked things, frozen breakfast foods, or items that would have historically satisfied one’s sugary cravings. The plastic thing has been downright hilarious (have you ever taken your own Tupperware into a restaurant, inquiring whether they would serve your meal in it?). I’ve found that it’s next to impossible to go to a grocery store and find anything not wrapped, covered or sealed in plastic.
Outside of the inconvenient choices, the most integrated part of our Lenten fast commitment is our Sunday energy fasts. Last week, I read for hours with a flashlight in the dark, leaving me feeling more like my insomniac 12-year-old self than a spiritually-disciplined adult. Our house seems eerily quiet as we eat cold food all day and shake off our coffee-less mornings, ignoring the phone and unplugging our computers. But the beauty of the energy fast is that the Sabbath has never before felt more like a Sabbath. We seem to enjoy each other without the doldrums of daily distractions, getting lost in song-singing and music-playing well into the night. We actually rest.
Perhaps the greatest gift of Lent is remembering – being reminded, constantly, the ways our individual choices crucify God’s people and Creation everyday. I’m learning more concretely that standing up and saying “no” – for however long a time is helpful – is really a lesson in saying “yes”. We vote instead for worker’s rights, an end to the wars, and a break for the replenishment of the planet. We’re saying “yes” to the creative energy of community. And in that, we end up choosing the life of the world we’re trying to build, over the death that otherwise seems to be all around us.
Read this week’s guest blogger’s first Messy post.