Why I “Go Vegan” for Lent

For the second year in a row, I’m choosing to become vegan for the Lenten season, which began today in my church tradition. After making this decision for myself last year, I posted something about it on Facebook because I know that I have several friends who are vegan and I was looking for some ideas for recipes and cookbooks. I received some really helpful advice both about recipes/cookbooks but also about nutrition and what are really good non-meat sources of protein. Overall, it was a really useful exchange for me.

Aunt Voula is here to help. Photo courtesy of Quickmeme.com.

But I was also asked at least once why I choose to do that. And one of those commenters (probably unintentionally) mocked my choice. The choice that I’m making is to follow as much as I can the rules of strict fast for Eastern Christians. (They’re not followed as widely in 21st century America as perhaps they ought to be, which is why Auntie Voula doesn’t know how to cook without meat.) This means that I’m avoiding meat, meat products, fish, eggs, dairy-ha, I do that anyway, and wine. I’m supposed to avoid oil too, but um, that’s crucial to my cooking. This is a sacrifice that I’m choosing to make, and it’s not for everyone.

The reason why I make this choice is simple. Lent is about sacrifice. It is about drawing closer to the Lord. The basic idea of Lent comes from the forty days Christ spent praying in the desert after his Baptism and before beginning his public ministry. If you remember this story (Mt. 4:1-11 and Lk. 4:1-13), this season in the desert ends with direct temptation by Satan. Similarly, the Catholic and Orthodox Churches (as well as some Protestant Churches) celebrate Lent as a season of prayer, fasting, and penance to help prepare ourselves to better celebrate the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ.

Christ the Bridegroom

For me, one way to do this is to find ways to simplify my life. What can I remove from my life to help me to focus more on God? Meat might seem like an odd answer, but it does help me to make my life more simple and to think of myself less. For the record, this Lent, my plan is eat pretty much just lentil soup, vegan split pea soup, and a kale-quinoa dish that I love on a two or three week rotation. This offers me the opportunity make sacrifices, to simplify my life, and to (theoretically) focus more on Christ and less on myself.

In exchange, I’m hoping to pray more and focus my attentions more on other than on myself.

Lent for Singles?

Lent is drawing nigh. For Eastern Christians following the Gregorian calendar it begins in 13 days. For Western Christians, it begins in 15 days. For Eastern Christians following the Julian calendar, it begins in 20 days. Simply put, it is coming.

Picture from the Catholic Community at the University of Nottingham

As I’ve discussed in several previous posts over the years, I struggle with Lent. I often struggle with what sacrifices I ought to make for this season. What should be my focus/theme for this season? How can I grow?

I have a Lenten-themed Pinterest board where I collect various ideas that I might find useful for Lent. It’s a small board, and most of the pins are vegan recipes because I “went vegan” for Lent last year, and I plan to do it again. Yesterday, I decided to search Pinterest to see if I could find any ideas for devotionals or prayers or anything of that ilk that I could add to my board. Most of what I found however was “Lenten Activities FOR YOUR FAMILY.” I found posts for teens and posts for families with young children. Sadly, I didn’t find much in the way of “Lenten Activities for Anyone and Everyone.”

At first, I was a little frustrated by this. Now, I know that most of these ideas/posts come from “Mom Blogs.” They were written by good women (or men) who are trying to raise their families in a good and holy fashion, and they’re trying to share what their ideas for the celebration/honoring of Lent with other similarly minded families. And that’s great. I’m glad that these people have one another.

But this leads me to any area with which I struggle. I’m currently single; I’m as single as the day is long, which is fine. That’s where God wants me, and I believe that there is a value to this season of my life. (Plus, neither Tom Hiddleston nor Rick Porcello has shown any interest whatsoever in marrying me, so that makes it easier.) However, being single does not mean that I live a life without structure or traditions. It doesn’t mean that I’m not trying to build a life of faith. I do want to create and establish traditions. I want to be connected to the life of the larger Church. (I discussed this a little bit on my post about Advent-here.)

My struggle is this. How do I, as a single woman, build traditions? What should I be doing? I can draw ideas from blog posts or articles aimed at families or at teens, but what suggestions out there are specifically geared to me? I don’t want to be an island or a lone reed; I want to be connected to my Church, to her traditions. So how do I as an unmarried twenty something do that?

I can fast from meat and dairy products. I can go to Confession more. I can give up swearing, which I desperately need to do. I can avoid secular music and listen to only classical or liturgical music, which I’ll definitely do. I can go to the Liturgy of Presanctified Gifts at my church as often as possible. (The service is celebrated every Friday during Lent, but I’m booked with an equally important obligation for a few of those Fridays.) These are all good things to do. They are important things to do.

Here is my quandary. How do I celebrate Lent and increase my connection to the rest of the Church? Most of the activities I listed as potential Lenten sacrifices are individual acts. What can I do that will increase my connection to the rest of the Church? This is a question that I would love to have my readers respond to, but it’s also a question to which I have something of an answer.

The best answer that I’ve come up with is that I can pray. I hate being told that as a single woman I have more time for prayer than my married friends, but this might be true. Yes, I have a job. Yes, I’m in grad school. But maybe in my hsubandless, childless life, I do have more time for prayer. And if so, I can use that time for prayer. And maybe at this stage in my life, that is what I’m supposed to do. Maybe I’m supposed to use these quiet (seemingly endless) years to pray for my church, for our world, for my family and friends, and for myself.

This doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t like more recommendations as to how to engage Lent more fully as a single person. This doesn’t mean that I don’t wish that there were more people offering advice to young single women like myself who are trying to maintain Church traditions and actively engage the Church in their singleness. But maybe I need to write the blog posts that I want to read. Maybe the reason that I can’t find the blog posts or pins that I want is because they don’t exist. And maybe, just maybe, there are other single women who would like to read those posts just as much as I would.

But one thing that I can tell you for certain is this: This year, during Lent, in addition to giving up swearing and keeping strict fast and going to Confession more, I will also be taking some focused time each day to pray for others. And if you have any specific intentions that for which you’d like me to pray, feel free to drop them in the comment box. I’d love to pray for you during this upcoming Lent, and I’d love it if you’d consider praying for me.

(Also, I’m going to be re-reading The Gift of Peace: Personal Reflections during Lent.)

“Adventure”

At the beginning of 2014, I made one of my yearly goals “going on an adventure.” I was thinking Hobbitishly. I wanted to go on a trip. Perhaps I would go to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Maybe I could go to Europe? I was going to Jamaica for a spring break mission trip, and that promised to be an adventure. All I knew was that I wanted an adventure.

And an adventure I got. I’ve blogged before about how I had my dream job and lost it earlier this year. 2014 was a very difficult year. In mid-May, I scrawled on my desk calendar, “Jesus, be real to me.” That became my daily prayer over the course of 2014.

That prayer didn’t make my life easier. It didn’t mean that God suddenly made these difficult circumstances (unemployment/underemployment, difficulties with insurance, emotional ramifications of the previous points) magically vanish. But I find myself becoming calmer, more peaceful. I had to be brave, which I didn’t particularly like. I had to be strong, which I can do, but I didn’t really want to. However, I’ve done these things. And I’ve felt peaceful in so doing.

My year was an adventure, and my adventure continues into 2015. But I’m moving forward with a feeling of peace and a belief that God will always be with me and will always provide for me.

For I know well the plans I have in mind for you—oracle of the Lord—plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope.

-Jeremiah 29:11

My Advent Adventure

I’m Byzantine Catholic. I don’t know if I’ve ever said this explicitly on this blog, but if I haven’t, there you have it. This means that while my Church is in communion with the Pope, I’m not Roman Catholic. My Church (the Byzantine Catholic Church) has its own traditions that might look or feel or smell a little different than what my Roman Catholic friends are used to.

And I had the privilege to be raised in a family that honored those traditions. My parents did a really great job of incorporating the liturgical seasons into our family’s prayer life especially when my brother and I were young. However, as an adult, I’ve often let many of them slide because I’m single. I haven’t made a concentrated effort to observe and celebrate things because I have no one to share these traditions with at home. However, over the past few months, I’ve come to the realization that just because I can’t share my traditions with others, that doesn’t mean that I can’t develop these traditions for myself so that I can share my family if I ever have a family.

This means that on August 14 before I went to church for the vigil Divine Liturgy of the Dormition (Falling Asleep) of the Mother of God, I went to the store and bought a bouquet of flowers for the priest to bless. This is one of our traditions, and it’s something that’s easy for me to honor.

This also means that I’m trying to actually celebrate the Fast of Philip this year. This is what my Western friends call “Advent.” But their Advent looks and smells a little different than mine does. For example, while my Western friends are used to a four week Advent, my Advent, which we actually call the Fast of Philip, begins on November 15. November 15 is forty days before Christmas. (November 14 is the feast of St. Philip, hence the name.) The use of the word “Fast” implies what you might suspect-that it is a season of sacrifice and trying to draw closer to the Lord whose birth we’ll celebrate in 40 days.

There are a few things that I’m trying to incorporate into my life this year during Advent. One thing that I’m doing is choosing to fast “Byzantine-style.” In other words, I’m trying to live as a vegan as much as possible. (I will however celebrate American Thanksgiving as well as the feasts of St. Nicholas and of the Conception of St. Anna.) I’m also trying to fast from music that doesn’t encourage me to focus on the coming of Christ. This means that you’ll probably hear most of the beginning of Handel’s Messiah if you’re around me much during the next six weeks. (But that’s okay with me because one of the themes that I’m trying to work with is the “He shall purify the sons of Levi” section and the larger meaning of Malachi 3:3 for my own life.)

IMG_0434

Another thing that I’m doing as an Eastern variant on the Advent wreath. While the Advent wreath isn’t an Eastern tradition, I’m adopting it as a reminder of the idea of “light” in connection with Christmas. Christmas is four days after the darkest day of the year, and it is a celebration of the One who is is the Light of the World. So I want to use the candles as a reminder that no matter how dark our lives or our world may seem, there is always Christ.

(And if you’re wondering why the wreath is in front of images of three female Saints, it’s because I wanted my Theotokos of Vladimir icon with the wreath and because that’s where my St. Catherine icon and my St. Cecilia engraving fit.)

In short, I’m trying to focus during the pre-Christmas season on developing my relationship with Christ and on developing traditions that I can potentially transition into family traditions if I ever have a family. (Feel free to check out the Pinterest page where I’m trying to organize ideas.)

Next year, by the way, I want to add in a Jesse tree. I really want to add in a Jesse tree to this. And I need an icon of the Nativity of Christ. And I want an icon of the ancestors of Christ that I can use especially during Advent.

Do Anything

I’m in a state of flux at the moment. My life is not going in the direction that i might have hoped or expected. I’m not sure what’s next for me, but I’m also not sure that’s a bad thing.

I’ve said before that I have a my dream job. Well, I had it, but due to circumstances beyond my control, I don’t anymore. And that’s not the easiest thing in the world to face. It’s very, very hard. I’ve had one of my biggest and oldest dreams taken from me. And now I have to find a new dream.

And that’s scary. That’s big and it’s scary and it’s real. I have to find a new dream. I have to move in a new direction. And I don’t like that. I like being in a comfortable, familiar place. I like doing what I always do. I like knowing what’s coming next. I think that’s fairly normal for humans.

And I don’t have that right now. I don’t have a real plan that goes beyond September. I don’t know what I’m going to do with my life anymore. I don’t know what I’m going to be. I could go to grad school. I could (try to) write a book. I could work in a bookstore or a coffeeshop or I could hitchhike through Europe. As one of my former coworkers told me in June, I can do anything with my life.

The question remains though…what will I do? I don’t know yet. As I said earlier, I know what I’m doing at least through September, and I do have some idea of what I’ll be doing until next June or so. I’ll still be reading and knitting and drinking tea-all of those things that I do so well. But now I need to either find a way to turn those things that I do well into a way to earn a living or I need to figure out what else I do well.

So I can do anything. But where will that lead me?

Two Beautiful Gifts

Tomorrow, Mother Church gives her children an amazing gift, two amazing gifts really. Tomorrow, Sunday, April 27, we will receive the gifts of the canonizations of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II. And I, for one, am extremely grateful and extremely excited.

“I plead with you–never, ever give up on hope, never doubt, never tire, and never become discouraged. Be not afraid.” 

John Paul II was the Pope of my childhood. He became Pope about ten years before I was born, and he passed away about three months before my seventeenth birthday. I am the only member of my immediate family to have never seen him in person. He was an accepted fact of my Catholic upbringing. He was just always there.

And I loved him. As a child, I didn’t understand him yet, but I loved him. At first, I loved him because he was the Pope and that was the thing you were supposed to do as a good Catholic kid. And as I grew older and could understand his message, I loved him for who he was rather than what he was. I don’t know that there were specific things that he said that stuck out to me, but I remember being struck by his travels and by the love that I saw in his actions.

In 2002, my older brother went to World Youth Day in Toronto. Back at home, we occasionally saw bits about WYD on the news, and I was struck by how happy John Paul II looked when he was with his “dear young people.” These people loved him, and he loved them. He wanted to be with them.

The thing that I remember most clearly, however, is the end of his life. Even as he was dying, John Paul II, our Papa, wanted to be with his people. Even when he couldn’t speak, he still wanted to see his people and encourage them by his presence. He was dying. It was Holy Week. And he was showing us by his example how to love others-and in that, he was showing us both how to live and how to die.

And on the Saturday after Easter, April 2, 2005, he left us. He went home to the house of the Father. But he left us an amazing legacy. He traveled to the ends of the earth to see his people. He canonized 110 Saints. He gave us 14 encyclicals. And he loved us.

For me, looking back, his two greatest lessons are his love of people and his constant reminder to us to BE NOT AFRAID. Above all, that is his legacy in my eyes.

Prayer is the raising of the mind to God.
We must always remember this.
The actual words matter less.

Pope John XXIII died more than twenty years before I was born. In my life, his primary legacy is the Second Vatican Council. I’ve only read one of his encyclicals, but I know that I need to change that. From what I know of him, I know that I am grateful to see him formally canonized tomorrow.

I am excited to see these two Princes of the Church honored tomorrow. And I am so grateful to God for giving them to His Church and to Mother Church for honoring them.

Why I Don’t Mind Being Single

First of all, let me say that I do want to get married and have a family. It is something that I desire and something that I believe that God is calling me to.

However, I believe that there is a purpose to this single season in my life. While I would love to be married and have a family, that isn’t where my life is right now. And by and large, I am fine with that. Why is that?

First of all, I am so much more than my relationship status. I am a heck of a lot of things and most of them don’t depend upon whether or not some dude has asked me out. I have managed to grow in various area of my life over the past few years specifically because I’m single. I’ve been able to use this time in my life to grow and to become more of the person that I am.

Secondarily, I believe that God has a plan for my life. I believe that he has put me where I am for a reason. I may not always understand that, but I try to accept that. I have accepted the fact that it is God’s will for me to be single in this season of my life. I don’t know how long he intends for this season to last, but while I’m here, I might as well make good use of this time.

Thirdly, I realize that I’m doing something with my life right now. I don’t need to wait until some guy puts a ring on my finger to have a purpose in my life. I don’t need to be a wife or a mother to have a purpose. I have a purpose to my life these days-and it’s a pretty awesome purpose.

As I have said before, I have my dream job. At the age of twenty-four, I got my first full-time teaching job. As a teacher, I have the opportunity to work with young people and to hopefully help shape them in a positive ways. I can introduce them to literature, to culture, and to ideas that they may have never considered before. I get to talk to them, to work with them, and to pray for them. To be honest, I think that I am able to be more available to them because I am single. I have more time and energy for my job because I’m unattached.

Now, my students not my children-although we’ve talked before about how I have been known to call my students my kiddos. But these children have become a part of my life. They have shaped me in little ways. Some of them have allowed me to see a window into their lives. Some of them have adopted me as a sort of older sister. I get to be involved in shaping their lives. There is nothing that I love more than those random moments when I get to give them my (usually solicited) opinion on important issues that may not be directly related what we’re covering in class. At the very least, I get to stick a new idea in their brains, give them something to chew over. I like that. I like making them think.

All in all, I’m happy with my life. I have a great job with great coworkers, wonderful friends, an amazing God, and an amazing yarn collection. I’m happy. I have all of the things that I need to survive and the ability to obtain most things that I want. To me, that’s a good life. It’s a happy life.

I don’t need a husband to make me feel validated. I don’t need to have rings on my finger to make me happy-although they might make the boys I teach stop trying to flirt with me. But I don’t need a husband. I have a life that fulfills me. And I believe that God has a plan for me. I firmly believe that I am single at this point in my life because it is His will.

Even in this life, I am trying to prepare for marriage. I pray for the man that I may someday marry. I ask God to bless him and to help him to become a strong, holy man of God. I pray that God will help me to become a strong, holy woman of God. I spend time with my friends and family because I know that I need a well-rounded life.

But for now, I’m single. And I am pretty darn content with that life. After all, I’m spending my Friday night grading homework, and I’m not sure how a boyfriend/husband would like that too much.