Tuesday, February 19, 2008
It has been about five years since I left Catholicism. However, I still observe one of the customs of that church. I still practice self-denial during the season of Lent.
(Good joke: What did you give up for Lent? Being Catholic.)
For those of you unfamiliar with Lent, here’s a brief explanation. It is comprised of the 46 days from Ash Wednesday to Easter. Generally, it is a time when Catholics (and some other Christians; most notably, perhaps, Episcopalians) emulate in some small way the 40-day fast that Jesus undertook, in the desert, upon the beginning of his earthly ministry.
It is customary for those observing Lent to deny themselves something that they enjoy greatly. Many children give up sweets, and that’s why baskets full of candies and chocolate became the customary gift to children on Easter Sunday. They were rewards for having completed the regimen. The abundance of the baskets was meant to show the children that denying oneself in small ways, for the glory of God, would result in future rewards more plentiful than the sum of those denials.
Some adults, rather than giving up a food item, instead choose to refrain from practices that are a common part of their daily routine. For instance, they may limit their smoking or not watch television. However, it is more common to see them forego a food or drink item that they enjoy. While most will not be like the children and give up sweets, they usually give up something they greatly enjoy. Giving up radishes for Lent is good for a laugh, but not much of a sacrifice unless you truly adore radishes.
This year, Lent runs from February 6th until March 23rd. That is earlier than usual. It more often ends in April.
That last used to be important to me. You see, softball season in this colder part of the world starts in April, more or less. Though the first games rarely occur before May, pre-season workouts – scrimmages and practices - begin a bit earlier. Thus, I needed to be in reasonable shape by April. I needed to drop the fat I had accumulated since the end of the previous season. I did so with the help of my Lenten observance.
I always undertook the observance with the foremost thought being sacrificial. However, a few years back I decided that I might as well do something that would help me to get in shape for the upcoming season, too. I began giving up all wheat products and dairy for Lent. Basically, of course, that means bread and milk. However, it also includes such staples of my usual diet as butter, crackers, cookies, pastries, cake, cheese, yogurt, and – the ultimate denial, since it always involves both categories – pizza.
As you might imagine, this is not the easiest of diets to accommodate. I allow myself a few exceptions. I still use half-and-half in my coffee. If I really start to jones about the carbs, I’ll have a dish of macaroni with plain tomatoes, since that’s about the healthiest way I can cheat. And, since my birthday (March 2nd) usually happens during the Lenten observance, I’ll have a piece of the cake if someone buys me one. It would be rude, and not really in the spirit of the whole thing, to get all self-righteous and up in someone’s grill if they do something nice like buy you a cake.
(This very morning, a British co-worker brought in a package of Jammie Dodgers. They are a wonderful cookie, filled with [as you might imagine] jam. I suspect he brought them in more for me than anyone else, as he knows I'm something of an Anglophile. I would dearly love one or two or a hundred. Aaaarrrggghhh!)
If you’re among the more mathematically inclined, you may have a question. Since Jesus fasted for 40 days, why is Lent 46 days in length? Well, some Catholics use the Sundays during Lent as a break from whatever fast they’ve undertaken. Being as there are 6 Sundays during the season, that leaves 40 days. I don’t follow that practice. For one thing, it’s always seemed not quite in the spirit of it, if you’ll excuse the religious semi-pun. Did Jesus come home from the desert every Sunday and stuff himself with grilled cheese sandwiches and ice cream sundaes? I think not. Also, it’s just not in my nature. I’m a black-and-white kind of guy. I’m either in or out, no vacillating.
(I’ll often make a decision on something and then hear MY WIFE chiding me by singing the following tune from the musical OKLAHOMA:
With me it's all er nuthin'.
Is it all er nuthin' with you?
It cain't be "in between"
It cain't be "now and then"
Despite that, I still love her. That’s because I view my wedding vows in the same no-room-for-nebulous-interpretations way. I like to think it’s when that realization hits her that she stops singing. However, I digress.)
As I said, and which I’ve no doubt bored some of you to tears with over the past six months, I won’t be playing softball this year. It will be the first time in 43 years that I won’t be picking up a bat during the summer - unless someone breaks into our house and I need something with which to cave in his squash. And I’m also no longer a Catholic. So, why am I undertaking such a rigorous fast when I could be a happy man scarfing down my usual allotment of cream cheese and chives with saltines, or chocolate milk with peanut butter and Ritz crackers?
I don’t have the fucking slightest.
Hah! See what I did there? It’s almost like a joke! No, the reason I’m doing it is because I still think a bit of self-denial is good for my Christian soul, and – softball or not - I still need to lose weight. In other words, while my habits have radically changed, my habits haven't radically changed.
(I think this fast is affecting my brain. Nurse! Get this man a kaiser roll, stat!)
I’ve spent this off-season in the same way as every off-season since I started playing ball. I did no exercise and I ate copious amounts of crap. Cue the OKLAHOMA music! The result? As always, I went from my season-ending 180 up to about 195. The fast will get me back close to the 180. The problem, though, is that I’ll soon have to come up with something to replace the softball this year. If I don’t, I’ll be back to 195 by May. And by the time NEXT Lent rolls around, so will I. It wouldn’t be inconceivable for me to blow up to 225, which would be totally unacceptable on my 5’10” frame. I’m my father’s son, and that’s pretty much where he spent the last 25 years of his life.
What can I do for exercise that will be as much fun as fast-pitch softball, cost as little, and provide the same cardiovascular benefits? Sex comes to mind, of course, but then it always does. And, while I like to think of myself as a studly sort, going 90 minutes 4 or 5 times a week is a bit beyond even my ego. What else? If you have any good suggestions, I’m willing to listen. Please leave some in the comments section. In return, come Easter, when I’m gorging myself on a pepper steak with cheese and a banana split, I’ll say a prayer for you. I’m sure God will listen, too, because with Him, it’s all er nuthin’...
Soon with more better stuff.