Joy of fasting: recipes for Easter-living

Guest blogger Amy Nee

Easter came in singing, and the blossoming trees around town seem to confirm its promise of new life. Lent has come and gone and, along with it, our fasting obligations. As I face Ordinary Time and ordinary ways of living (if such a phrase can ever be applied to a Catholic Worker lifestyle), I am left wondering: what did we learn?

Going for forty-plus days abiding (admittedly imperfectly) by the commitments to go without cane sugar and sugar substitutes, to not bring new plastic into the house and to refrain from using electricity and other sources of energy on Sunday was not easy. But was it worthwhile? These three fasts may seem different to outsiders, but I found a unifying result binding together my experience of each.

Our fasts disabled “auto-pilot” – the everyday in-and-out I seem to be subject to, blindly doing things without thinking – and forced me into paying attention, preparing and being patient. As the practice of mindfulness developed and the excesses of convenience were diminished, my senses were refined so that I could hear the quietly-deep desires that are normally drowned out by the white noise of daily living.

I began to discover how foods full of sugar and corn syrup are disguised as a healthy choice (sometimes quite literally bearing that phrase on the label) through clever marketing and veiled language. While my cravings for easy options and sugary satisfaction wearied of the constant “no’s,” my body began to express its gratitude. With each little “no” I was making way for a larger “yes,” an affirmation of healthier, more just and often more creative choices that helped me make the connection between the food I eat, and where that food comes from, who works for it, and how it affects the quality of life for us all.

That creativity and conscientiousness came into play when shopping as well. Not only did I prepare physically, making sure to have a cloth bag on hand, I also prepared mentally, often not being able to buy what I wanted because chances were good that a shiny plastic film was between me and that item.

While browsing the cheese section of Whole Foods (after rummaging through its dumpster, of course), I found to my dismay that there was not one scrap of that dairy delight free of plastic wrapping. An employee, noting my long-lingering lack of selection approached. “Can I help you?” “I’m afraid not. Unless you have some cheese that isn’t in plastic?” “Oh. Hm, I don’t think we do.” “I didn’t think so. I am trying to reduce the use of plastic by not buying anything packaged with it. I really want to make a pizza, but if I bring plastic-wrapped cheese in the house I’ll be ostracized by my community.” “Mhm. Well, we can’t have that.” Being the savvy salesperson that he was, this young man did not submit to defeat. He came up with an alternative, “We have bulk cheese that doesn’t get put out. I could cut some off for you and wrap it in wax paper.” Beautiful! I would be hard pressed to think of a more satisfying purchase than that soggy slab of fresh, wax-wrapped, mozzarella.

Blocks of cheese

Going without plastic wasn’t easy, but the challenge was energizing and helped direct me toward a way of living more mindfully and responsibly on this beautiful, abused planet. Perhaps the most challenging and enriching aspect of the fast was our energy-free Sundays. The first Sunday morning was an education in unconscious habits—flicking on a light as soon as I walk in a room, checking my phone for the time, checking the computer for weather/correspondence/news—and a hitherto unnoticed dependence on the stove. What about coffee? What about oatmeal? I responded by forming a new habit of making preparations on Saturday.

One Saturday afternoon, in the process of boiling eggs and frying pancakes that would be eaten cold the next morning, it occurred to me that I was keeping the Sabbath in a more genuine way than I ever had before. So much of the work we do, and so many of the distractions I have, are based in technology. By removing that, not only did I have the opportunity to rest from work, but I was able to engage in activities that I often long for but relegate to the bottom of my list of priorities. I found myself reading more, practicing guitar, writing letters, spending time talking and – best of all singing with community members and friends.

I am tempted to cling to Lent, relying on the season and the Church and community to enforce discipline upon me. I am honestly more afraid of the riotous new life of Easter than I am of Good Friday’s tomb. The grave offers a quiet end, linen-wrapped like a newborn baby. The perpetual promise of resurrection presents an eternity of new days. And with each of those days, the choice; who will I be? How will I live? Do I go out for dinner or eat the mysterious leftovers in the fridge? It’s no wonder that the way Christ taught us to pray is for the things that give life one day at a time: God’s will, daily bread, forgiveness (for us and from us), relief from temptation, now and forever. And what is forever but an eternity of todays? Let’s start with the one we have, and live it well.

Amy’s post serves as a nice follow-up to guest blogger Jerica Arents introduction to this Lenten fasting.

Photo credit: http://www.morguefile.com/archive/display/554400

this is HARD

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.

 

sugar spoon

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.


“Plastic” photo credit: http://www.morguefile.com/archive/display/690898 “Sugar” photo credit: http://www.morguefile.com/archive/display/76944