For several years I have taken up a practice during Lent that has jolted me out of habitual action and set a more intentional behavior in its place: I stop eating while standing.
Honestly, I’m not even certain from where the idea came or whether this would be sanctioned a legitimate Lenten discipline in the eyes of anyone who might grant such an attestation. I just knew that it targeted a behavior that represented a lack of discipline and mindfulness in my life. And my vague childhood memory as a Protestant among a majority of Roman Catholics was that Lenten disciplines are supposed to be difficult. And this, my friends, is hard.
Like building a muscle, putting the brakes on mindless eating takes practice. Inevitably at the beginning of Lent I have to spit something out I don’t even remember placing in my mouth. As the days unfold, I notice how easily and often mindless urges pop into my thoughts: “I want that. I want that now.” I realize that the impulse to eat has less to do with hunger than habit. I notice that resisting the impulse and pausing before eating is possible, even desirable.
The meaning behind this simple action continues to deepen as Lent proceeds. I become more intentional when I do sit down to eat and extend the pause to include giving thanks for the food and God’s gift of creation. I pray for those whose hard work made it possible for me to bring food to my table – the farmers, workers, cooks, truckers, grocers. I pray for those whose hunger isn’t so easily satisfied. I pray for increased intention in other areas of my life. And I contribute to programs addressing hunger in my community.
Joan Chittister writes, “Lent is a time for trimming the soul and scraping the sludge off a life turned slipshod. Lent is about taking stock of time, even religious time. Lent is about exercising the control that enables us to say no to ourselves so that when life turns hard of its own accord, we have the spiritual stamina to say yes to its twists and turns with faith and with hope.” The Rule of Benedict: A Spirituality for the 21st Century.
With God’s help and grace, I pray that saying “no” to myself during Lent leads me deeper toward that place of spiritual stamina, courage and action not just during Lent, but throughout the year.