The dawn of Easter Sunday has always promised personal significance for me, marking the conclusion of another year’s Lent and the guiltless indulgence that rewards those 40 days of dietary restraint. This year however, for the first time, I will not be among the many celebrating their achievement. This year, I have failed.
Lent has always been rather an odd exploit for me, one I’ve committed to since my early teenage years. I treat it as a kind of bizarre austerity rollover (or: The Catholic Girl diet); every year I successfully complete it, an extra culinary treat is added the list of contraband to make it just a tad more challenging. So, this year’s forbidden fruits included – in alphabetical order - alcohol, biscuits, caffeine, cakes, carbonated drinks, chocolate, crisps, sugar, sweets… you get the idea.
I realise that, to a Lent beginner, this might seem like a particularly extreme attempt; some would even argue that it is ultimately pointless. Lacking a single religious bone in my body, Lent gives me none of the spiritual gratification that others might discover amidst its barren landscape. Competing only for my own favour, my 40 days of personal sacrifice have always been simply an exercise in willpower. If you’re wondering, rightly, why I even bother with Lent and don’t just test myself during some other time of year, I’m afraid I can’t really give a satisfactory answer. Maybe my Churchy upbringing runs deeper than I thought it did and those years of Sunday school simply transcend reason. I tend to defend it, however, by seeing it simply as cultural appropriation much like my fondness for café culture or my preference for futons over beds.
I can assure you that such usual consistency when facing restriction does not, in my case, denote a natural inclination to moderation - in fact it stems from rather the opposite. Lent is actually a demonstration of my complete lack of willpower in much the same way that my near-unnatural orderliness stems from my innate lack of organisational skills (the way I organise my wardrobe is often met with the same look as when I tell people that I fold my underwear: they hope I’m joking; I’m not). In my world there seems very rarely to exist such a thing as moderation; it’s simply all or nothing. This is the reason Lent works for me: happily subdued by those mind-forg’d manacles, it’s more than easy to say no. And unlike my mere pleas of vegetarianism, which are often met with reproachful mumblings of hippies and phases, Lent’s religious root lends weight when apologising for my asceticism to friends and family - it is (dare I say it) an excuse that is, for the most part, respected.
But I digress. For this confession, I must take you back to that root of all evil: the Original Sin. Deep in the depths of English Literature essays, my self-imposed persona of Jane Austere was losing its lustre and the devil on my shoulder began its temptation - surely, I thought in my naivety, after all these years of practising restraint in the face of cocoa, just one bit of chocolate couldn’t hurt? Foolishly, I took my chances and sought comfort in the arms of a Dairy Milk – a supersized bar, on offer for £1 at the Spar. Fate was obviously calling my name and I fell for the bait. But surely tomorrow could begin afresh and I could carry on, as if nothing had happened?
Alas, Lent’s mysterious spell was broken.
The metaphorical manacles had been loosened, a small hint of a gateway opened, and my dietary downfall gained in pace and criminality: a cheesecake for Mothers’ Day, mojitos at a friend’s birthday, a chocolate fondue on a date… Finally, and with less remorse than I care to admit, I realised the severity of my sins really signalled the point of no return and with this recognition a devilish grin took to my face. I rebelled, fled from the garden, and gorged myself gleefully on digestives, a few cocktails, a latte.
So where do I go from here? As this year’s burden was evidently too much to bear, should I reset the rollover and go back to giving up one measly thing at a time? Wallowing in my remorse over the past few days has certainly given me food for thought concerning, for example, why I’ve consistently chosen nutritional sacrifice in the first place. Assuming I don’t have some kind of unhealthy association of food with pleasure, this leaves me with a less palatable realisation: perhaps gluttony is actually the least of my sins. Instead of striving to challenge myself, are my extreme Lent-time efforts simply a mere disguise for less favourable traits? Giving up treats is, after all, essentially a selfish act, and I won’t pretend I don’t relish the few pounds lost yearly in sacrificing a cake or three. I have to wonder how hard it would have been, instead, to have perhaps combatted wrath and attempted 40 days of being more considerate, to have fought greed and donated money saved in Lent to charity, or – gulp – to abandon cosmetics or my shopping habit in an attempt to confront pride. After all, surely my friends and family are the true victims of my yearly Lent exploits, as lack of caffeine and sugar make me less than a happy bunny (seasonal pun intended).
Perhaps next year, then, I’ll try a different route. I don’t expect personal sacrifice to enhance any kind of spiritual experience, but I probably should attempt to enhance the experiences of those around me, practise random acts of kindness, et cetera. It looks like all those years of Sunday school did get to me, after all.
Image: EverJean on Flickr