Monday, 15 February 2016
Giving it up for Lent - spiritual and physical aspects
Lent 2016: Day Six
When I did my first Lent properly in 1992, I gave up alcohol for 46 days in a row and considered that a heroic achievement. Year on year, I added things to give up - meat, confectionery, cakes and biscuits, salt snacks, fast food, sugary drinks... The idea was to make it increasingly harder each year. Well, yes and no.
Looking back at my first Lenten blog post (here) dating back eight years to 2008,, then already my 17th year in a row, I see that that Lent was the toughest I've ever done. Add to the above list coffee, tea, dairy and fish! Since then, I've stepped back from that extreme. Coffee I carry on drinking, as numerous studies have shown that moderate coffee intake (to three-four cups a day) help stave off dementia. Dairy and fish I keep eating, as the dairy is needed for bones and fish is good for the brain.
Mens sana in corpus sanum - a healthy mind - and therefore consciousness - and therefore spirit - in a healthy body.
While the dietary regime is laxer than it was in 2008, the 46 days of Lent are now for me not so difficult to accomplish; it becomes routine as this time of year rolls around. Confectionery, cakes and biscuits I hardly ever eat anyway, so I'm not missing a thing. Meat - yes, a good steak, grilled medium-rare; a pork pie or fillet of duck. But not to the extent that it can't be replaced by tuna, salmon, prawns or swordfish. Again, no huge sacrifice, more a question of being aware of what I'm eating. Salt snacks and sugary drinks I partake of very rarely. So it's the alcohol that's the real sacrifice. The rest is ritual.
The additional bits of Lent - a commitment to write throughout the period about matters spiritual, have been added in recent years. The will to do is harder to enforce than the mere will not to do. So walking and sit-up targets have also been added.
Lent is associated in the minds of people - even in the increasingly atheist UK - with 'giving something up'. Indeed, passing through the ticket barriers at Ealing Broadway station today, I heard a conversation between two station staff talking about 'giving it up for Lent'. A joking reference, but a reference to Lent nonetheless.
The physical benefits of giving up things up for one eighth (exactly) of the year become clear after years. There is in this week's Economist an interesting piece about the regenerative powers of the human liver. It will be interesting to see what effects my annual Lenten abstinence will have long term on my body, given that the rest of the year I'm drinking moderately - and in the run-up to Christmas/Yuletide, immoderately. As I noted in the New Year, my alcohol intake over the whole of 2015 averaged exactly 28 units a week. This used to be the recommended safe limit for male drinking until the Chief Medical Officer for England announced that it is now 14 units. But then I doubt that takes Lent into account.
I am also minded of the Spanish vineyard owner, Antonio Docampo Garcia, who died this month at the age of 107. He attributed his long life to four bottles of red wine a day. Two with lunch, two in the evening. There's more than a bit of blarney about this, given the self-promotion of his family business. We'd be talking over 40 units of alcohol a day, given a 13.5% ABV wine. This is as much as Prof Dame Sally says we should be drinking over the space of three weeks. I dare say that on occasion Senor Garcia was indeed known to knock back that much, but not on a daily basis.
In vino veritas. I find that after four pints of best bitter all is clear. The secrets of the Universe unfold, the Ways of Man become evident and the tongue (and indeed pen) flow readily with wit and wisdom. But not every day. (Looking back over my Lenten writing, there's maybe fewer well-wrought phrases, but the argumentation holds together well.)
So - is the sacrifice of giving up alcohol for Lent a health thing or a spiritual thing? Given that I have had some Most enlightening insights after imbibing several ales or glasses of wine at a sitting, I'd say that alcohol consumption has indeed been instrumental to furthering me along the path of spiritual growth. But then stopping altogether for one eighth of the year has helped me grow spiritually even more over the years, by building my will power. Will, I posit, along with memory, is vital to what it is to be a conscious human being.
"If you will it, it is no dream." Theodore Herzl, Dude.
This time two years ago:
Curry in Warsaw - the lunchtime meal choice
This time three years ago:
Faces, humour and landscapes
This time four years ago:
The first heavy snow of winter
This time five years ago:
God's Dwelling Place - a short story
This time five years ago:
Beat this for a snowy winter!
This time seven years ago:
Poland's most popular male outer-garment
This time eight years ago:
The Frost Gods return