Wild Beasts In My Lenten Desert
Published: March 26, 2009
I am studying a package of graham crackers with a quizzical eye. Although it is not obvious to the casual observer, I am actually engaging in a bit of philosophy as I lift a cracker and sniff it.
Lent is more than half over, and what is going on is very predictable. I’ve given up sweets, so now I’m questioning the meaning of the term. In short, I want to know: Does a graham cracker count as a cookie?
If it is a cookie, of course it is off-limits, but if it’s a cracker—well, you get the picture.
I recall how incensed I was when a friend confided that she always gave up sweets for Lent, and then ordered one of those double-chocolate, mocha lattes with whipped cream on top. I didn’t say a word to her, but my holier-than-thou persona was kicking up quite a fuss. It was shouting, “Girl, drinking those fancy coffees is cheating!”
Later, I realized what was really going on: I am confronting my Lenten beasts.
St. Mark mentions there were wild animals with Christ when he went into the desert. There is no description of them, and there needn’t be, because the very thought gives me the creeps. There was Jesus, going without food in the desert, a place that gets very cold at night and is extremely lonely. He was hungry and shivering—and what did he have to contend with? Wild animals!
Then I think about my own Lenten menagerie. There is the big fuzzy, slobbering beast called pride. He’s the one who goads me to pass judgment on other people’s Lenten sacrifices. I can feel the hideous heat of his heinous breath whenever someone tells me what they are doing for Lent, and I decide it isn’t enough.
Pride hangs around with a horned, hirsute beast called self-pity. Especially on mornings when I have the blues, this monster assures me that a nice cupcake will cheer me up. “But what about breaking my Lenten promise?” I protest. And he murmurs: “God will understand.”
I try to banish self-pity by reminding myself of all the comforts I am not giving up during Lent. There’s my morning cup of fragrant coffee, my two mugs of milky tea at lunch, and my evening glass of wine. And let’s not forget my fluffy slippers, my plush bed, complete with feather pillows, and those luxuriously long hot showers.
I think you get the picture. I am living a lavish life, to put it mildly, so there is no justification for expecting to sprout a halo just because I am going without sweets.
But then, just as I think I’ve vanquished all the monsters, another one shows up. He’s a ferocious furry fellow with fetid fangs—and he is carrying, of all things, a dictionary.
“Just what IS a sweet anyway?” he asks me. And then we are off and running: Does a frosted muffin count? What about animal crackers?
Lest the beasts get the best of me, I am recalling what else was mentioned in that scriptural passage about Christ’s stay in the desert: “Angels came and ministered to him.”
Obviously, it’s time I prayed for some angels to show up. Surely they’ll help me tame this menagerie of monsters. And who knows? The angels also might have the definitive answer on the graham cracker question as well.
Lorraine Murray’s latest book is “Confessions of an Ex-Feminist,” the story of her journey from Catholicism to radical feminism/atheism, and back again. Her books are available at www.lorrainevmurray.com.