"Holy Lent is a time when we give up various foods, meat, fish, eggs and diary products. In the early church, the money that was saved by this type of fasting was given to the poor. Some people go further and vow to give up other things as well which may represent a personal sacrifice. They may give up some of their time to volunteer at local charities or visit shut-ins. My own personal goal this Lenten Season is to give up something which is intangible yet so beneficial to spiritual growth. I would like to concentrate my energies during this holy time to stop complaining. It sounds easy, but it's so difficult." (Father Dionysios of The Dormition of the Theotokos Greek Orthodox Church, in Greensboro, NC)
I was born and raised in the tradition of the Christian Orthodox Church. I choose to grow further in this tradition, and I want to pass over into "the other side" in it, as well. Growing up in Romania, we understood Lent (the 42 days or 6 weeks before both Easter and Christmas) as both a time for spiritual as well as a material journey. We thought of the body, as well as the soul, is what I mean.
The material component meant that this is a time of food fasting, mainly from foods that come from animals. In a spiritual sense, we understood Lent as a time to reflect upon our Faith and understand why (food) fasting, and withholding from "carnal" behavior and "needs" is beneficial also for the soul. The material withdrawing from "lavish" foods was meant to be just a reminder that the eternal soul has to be pure, too. This was a time to ponder upon things we don't normally think about, like the purity of our eternal souls, or about the example we have in Jesus Christ: it made us think about His life, and His painful journey to save us from a world of sin. It gave us accountability for our actions. Also a time to appreciate what we had. It was a time when we purposefully made supplies scarce, just to appreciate the bounty we truly have in life, and which we display, especially in foods, over the Easter and Christmas feasts. To this day, I see both Easter and Christmas as a powerful spiritual journey because of these things. And I am so grateful for having known and understood these things about life, momentary or eternal.
Lent was a quiet time. Music was not played loudly, and prayer was what started and ended our days.
The most obvious fasting was from foods. There were various versions of it: my relatives in the mountains (more conservative) would withhold from animal products for the entire Lent. My family (city people) would not eat animal products only on Wednesdays and Fridays. Those are special days for Christians: they say Jesus was captured on a Wednesday, and crucified on a Friday.
To this day, I obey my family's ritual for Lent. And to this day, I cherish this time. It brings me closer to God, and to what's eternal, and what will outlive me: my soul! I find myself also going to church more, praying more, and being more accepting, and more patient.
But Father Dionysios's piece in this month's newsletter really opened up a new door for me. It was half a slap in the face, and half a welcome revelation! I never thought of giving up something "of the soul" for Easter. And why, yes, I do complain quite an annoying lot lately! And if I could give that up, or at least be more aware of it ... wow! What an accomplishment!
The key remark in his opening paragraph, quoted above, was: "give up something which is intangible yet so beneficial to spiritual growth." I realized, as we all should, that yes, complaining is a huge hindrance to the spiritual growth. We get stuck in these 'catch 22's when we complain. We mostly complain about things we have no control over. Because if we do have control over them, we most often fix them and stop complaining! So, besides being a waste of energy, they're useless. They help no one, and definitely not us. Instead of moving forward, and seeing what's next and exploring the newness and gifts of every day, we find ourselves still stuck on what yesterday (and someone else) made us mad about. The utility bills, the economy, the frustrated co-workers, the "stupid" driver in front of us who's on the cellphone and driving too slow ... what have you... We hurt our own energy, and we bestow a negative vibe on everyone around us when we complain.
They say "answer the phone with a smile; people can't see it, but they can hear it!" - in the same way, when we complain, the mood of the whole world around us is negative, dull, abrasive, unproductive and lacks good vibrations to allow for happiness to happen!
So, my new Lent custom will be if not quitting complaining altogether, at least being more aware of it, when I do it, and trying to stop it in the bud. Like Father said: it's not easy to do. But no worthwhile thing is easy to do, is it?! I feel like my mind and my heart can make room for so much more "goodness" if they wake up with a smile, and go to bed with a "thank you" note to The Universe. And it's so worth it, too! After all, I think God wants our souls withdrawing from "junk food" more than He wants our bodies to.
I can only hope that this new custom won't stop at Easter. And it will carry me through the entire year! But just like Jesus's "New Life", after Resurrection, Easter Lent seems like a good start for it.