Stop Missing the Point
I did something kind of stupid on Wednesday. It didn’t start out stupid, to be fair, and was only full of good intentions. Then again, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.
This past Wednesday was Ash Wednesday, and if you haven’t been paying attention, I’m a (mostly) observant Catholic. I go to mass for any old Sunday, not just Christmas and Easter, and I go to confession. I’ve gone on pilgrimage across Europe and have seen all three Popes in my lifetime. So it follows that Lent is the Most Important Season of the year. And it’s great, even from secular perspective, I think there is a lot of value in taking a chunk out of the year—40 days to be exact—to examine our lives. What do we have in our life that is frivolous? What can we get rid of to make space for something else? It’s the original Marie Kondo.
Ash Wednesday is one of the two days out of the entire year that Catholics are asked to fast. (Yes, some will fast on all Fridays of Lent, but we’re generally just asked to abstain from meat those days.) We have it easy: ask anyone who celebrates Ramadan. And even on our day of fast we are still allowed one meal, which can be taken at any time of day! Tell that to anyone who observes Yom Kippur. A Catholic fast asks very little of a healthy, able-bodied adult.
Which I am. I started participating in the full fast after college, after I was no longer contending with grueling swim practices or (stupid) all-nighters. I can afford to fast. I can afford to go without. It is a privilege I am happy to partake in. The first year I did it was terrible and I was incredibly cranky, but as I’ve learned to optimize my calories and my one meal, I’ve found the practice very refreshing, even energizing. Not enough to do it repeatedly, but enough to partake during the two days of obligation with little concern for how it will affect my work.
Maybe it was the cold this year, or that I was already fighting an infection, but let’s just say this fast did not go well. And I definitely should have listened to my mom when she told me to break fast and just eat. I was starting to feel feverish at work, and just achy and sore. I wrote it off. Clearly my body was just hungry. It would be fine. I would be fine. I continued working and went about my day. Miserable, but not altogether unproductive.
Truly more than anything else one of my biggest lessons has been listening to my body and not ignoring it. I woke up at 3am the next morning with chills and a fever. I canceled a breakfast meet up with a friend. I woke up again at 6. I sent an email to my boss to let him I wasn’t coming in before 8.
We worship many gods. We prostrate ourselves at the Altar of Work, we give offerings to the Health and Wellness deities, alms to our meditation apps. We make sacrifices to idols of Minimalism, glorify the Numbers of Engagement and Measurable Effect. Some of us, many of us, have put each other on pedestals, transformed one another into Human Gods.
All of these—and I include the Roman Catholic Church here—are man-made gods. They were never meant to uphold the weight of the multitudes we all contain. No one thing alone can withstand that kind of expectation. It’s impossible.
In the Church, we fast to express our longing for Christ, but also in hopes of becoming more Christlike. It’s about learning what it absolutely necessary, what is frivolous. But it has a purpose. The point is not to make yourself sick, or weak, but to take a day to be mindful of the sacrifices Christ made. I missed the point on Wednesday.
We often miss the point. And yes, it’s easy to look at organized religion: all of the “Pro-Lifers,” the numerous instances of sexual assault in the Church, the really terrible, awful things that are done in the name of their God. But we miss the point in small ways too, small ways that add up to less terrible, but still kind of fucked up things. We chain ourselves to our desks, our phones, our email. We run ourselves into the ground and we starve ourselves. And for what? What point? I think we so often don’t know.
Whether you believe in God or not (honestly, I’m not really sure if I do, so no judgement), I think there is at least some part of Hell that is simply the act of missing the point, over and over again. Even when our intentions are good, as mine were on Ash Wednesday, we suffer when we miss the point. Whatever you are devoted to, whatever gods you worship, perhaps take this season to examine the whys. What purposes do they fill in your life? What are they adding to your life? What are they taking away?
And then finally, examine whether or not these shrines are worthy of your attention. We have one precious life. What are you giving it to?
All my love,