How much of your daily life is fat? How much of your daily life is ashes?
The holy season of Lent is approaching, and it begins with two big days: Mardi Gras and Ash Wednesday. Let’s start with a look at the first and the fat of our lives.
Mardi Gras is French for Fat Tuesday, and it represents the last occasion for eating rich, fatty foods before the fast of Lent begins. However, who abstains from fat during 40 days of Lent anymore? Funny how that tradition has faded away, but the tradition of overindulgence and revelry has only increased. It says a lot about us.
We are a fat people. And I’m not talking about obesity here. I’m talking about greed, materialism, all forms of self-indulgence and excess. We even call legislative bills in Congress “pork” because there’s so much fat, so much excess that could be trimmed. Very few of us run lean households if financial constraints don’t compel us. Often, if we are forced to live within a tight budget, then we will use any excess resources to do something truly frivolous, just so that we don’t feel like we are being deprived.
Deprived of what? That’s the question. How many of the things that we spend money on, the things that we spend time on, are really just excess with no true benefit? Well, that’s a good thing to find out during Lent. Go without, and you will come to understand what extras are bloating you and weighing you down, crippling you even, and what extras are healthy additions of insulation and curve. That’s one of the reasons for the Lenten tradition of giving up things like chocolate, coffee, or Facebook for 40 days. If done prayerfully, we discover that our fulfillment as human beings is not dependent upon extra stuff. We are invited to shed the excess and find out what it truly means to be fulfilled.
We humans are not merely taste buds and pleasure sensors, after all. We have minds and hearts because we are not only of flesh but also of spirit, being created by God in divine image. The pure goodness of our souls gets tainted and soiled by self-centeredness — when we want what we want because it feels good, even if we know that it isn’t truly good for us or anyone else.
On the first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday, Catholics are required to fast (two small meals that won’t equal a whole, one full meal, no snacking), and we are invited to receive ashes upon our foreheads as a reminder that we human beings “are dust, and to dust” we will return.
Much of earthly life is perishable and will not continue into eternity with our spiritual souls. Bank accounts and trophies, wardrobes and complexions, high-rises with our names emblazoned at the tops and books with our names written boldly at the bottoms: all of these things will become ashes. They will return to the earth when our earthly bodies die. The possessions and accomplishments that we too often highly prize will not be resurrected at the end of days with our glorified bodies because they are not truly part of who we are eternally. Generous acts of love and kindness have everlasting effect on our souls, as do selfish acts of greed and cruelty — how we live now determines what will remain of us forever.
How much of my life will end up merely as ashes? As I meditate upon this question throughout Lent, with the help of the Holy Spirit, I pray that my life will be refined here and now to keep pure and brilliant the gold of my soul for the glory of eternity.
If we are too stuck on the surface of life — blinded by the bloat of fat, building up what will only become ashes — then we will not know and experience the profound depths of our souls, of who we truly and fully are now and forever. Our bodies are sacred and not to be profaned or abused, just as our souls are sacred and not to be ignored or neglected. My body and my soul are united as me, one person. Do I respect myself? Do I cherish myself and treat myself as sacred? Funny how self-centeredness leads us away from true self-respect and self-care. Think about it: what is the “self” that is involved and fulfilled when we are selfish? Nothing but fat and ashes.
We “look out for number one” and suffer from a false understanding of ourselves as autonomous and isolated from the lives of everybody else. We think that the sickness or sorrows of others have nothing to do with us because we live as fat and ashes, fallen away from the infinite connectedness and eternal reality of being human. Christ is that infinite connectedness to God, Creation, ourselves, and our fellow human beings as images of God. Christ is our eternal reality. Through, with, and in Christ, we are restored to true life, and may live it abundantly.
Do we die to self-centeredness in order to truly and fully live? Or do we live merely to die? These are the questions posed to us during the holy season of Lent, which culminates in the holiest season of all — the season of Resurrection, of Easter, of New Life: the season of eternity.
So this Lent, I will be asking myself: how much of my life is fat and how much of my life is ashes?
© 2019 Christina Chase
Although crippled by disease, I am fully alive in love. I write about the profound wonder and terrible beauty of life while living with physical disability and severe dependency. Unafraid to ask life's big questions, I was briefly an atheist and considered other religions before finding, in God's choice to intimately share our humanity, what it truly means to be fully human. A revert to the Catholic Faith, I blog weekly and have written a book called It's Good to Be Here.