By Amy Butler
Perhaps this only occurs in pastors’ households, but there has been a lot of recent conversation in my house about giving things up for Lent: What one considered giving up for Lent, what one decided to give up for Lent, how Lent is going so far and how I could possibly be mean enough to make chocolate chip cookies for my kids even though Sammy gave up chocolate? (Sorry! I forgot!)
I myself made what I thought was a very well-intentioned decision to try a new way of eating for the season of Lent. I’ve gone vegan.
When you eat vegan, of course, you eat a completely plant-based diet. That is, no animal products at all. In other words, I recently bid goodbye to any kind of meat, cheese, eggs, milk and butter. You know… all the good stuff.
It was quite the effort to prepare for this adventure, as most everything I normally eat is decidedly not vegan. Not only did I have to shop for new food, I had to figure out what kind of new food that might be. (Who knew that Velveeta is not vegan?)
I solicited advice from vegan friends. I picked up a recommended vegan cookbook. I scoured vegan websites. I even experimented by baking vegan brownies ahead of time.
As part of our recent family conversations about giving things up for Lent, we also talked about why we were even changing anything at all for the season. “Everybody’s doing it,” seemed to be the general consensus of the younger set, which, I confess, was not such encouraging news to my parental (and pastoral) ears.
I took that as an invitation to offer a few thoughts on spiritual disciplines, things we do to make us more mindful of how we live in the world and, specifically, how we practice our faith.
And as I shared all this with my eye-rolling children, I wondered whether my own Lenten vegan adventure was just a grown up version of “everybody’s doing it” — for health reasons, or to lose weight or to be extra nice to animals.
Maybe in the beginning it was, if only subconsciously, a little bit of: This sounds interesting. Maybe I could drop a few pounds. Isn’t it virtuous to be a vegan?
However I managed to get myself into this Lenten adventure, I can say that it has already accomplished for me what I lectured my children about. That is, I find myself walking through life these days more mindful than ever.
Mainly, I am mindful of the fact that I feel hungry. All the time. And, I am mindful all of a sudden about how much I deeply love cheese. I’m also mindful of the fact that coffee without half and half just seems almost not even worth drinking.
In all of these ways I am certainly, most definitely, feeling more mindful, but I’m finding that I’m a little more mindful even in some spiritual ways, too.
That feeling of being hungry, for example, has me thinking about so many around the world who are hungry all the time and not by choice and about how my faith might call me to respond to their pain.
I’ve been thinking about how privileged and entitled my life is, and about making different choices. I’ve been startled by a sometimes indignant response that feels almost like a reflex. It all makes me think that maybe I have too many choices for my own good. When did I get to feeling so entitled? And what might Jesus have to say about that?
And, while I probably will never keep a menagerie, being a Lenten vegan has gotten me thinking quite a bit about how we care for our world, all the other parts of God’s amazing creation over which we exert so much influence. I’ve come to think in new ways about the deeply sinful way in which I, without even thinking most of the time, contribute to the exploitation and destruction of this world.
My Lenten practice this year has definitely served the purpose of making me more mindful in all of these ways and more, an almost startlingly new experiential introduction to the discipline of Lent. Maybe all these years I have been giving up something for Lent just because “everybody is doing it.”
But along with the revelation of how critical cheese is to my general well-being, I think I’ve also learned an important lesson about Lenten practice in future years. I must ask myself what will help me, truly, pay attention to my life and this world and God’s part in all of it, because that will make a truly fruitful Lenten practice.
I’m fairly sure I will not continue vegan eating after Lent. I’m also supremely confident that Sammy’s chocolate fast will be a thing of the past once Easter arrives. But no matter why we started or where we end up come Easter, hopefully some of the mindfulness will stick around, for all of us.