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.)

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.)

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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.

Instant September

I decided it would be fun to show you some of my September through the lens of my Instagram feed. (Feel free to follow me!) It isn’t a detailed commentary on my month, but it gives a fun (at least to me) view of what I’ve been doing this month.

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Revisiting one of my favorite books (The Swan Thieves) yet again…I love books that are like old friends.

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Start of school wish from the neighborhood elementary school

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Working on pattern photos for an upcoming fall pattern release

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Seriously loving this color combo #knitting #maizenblue

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What the dark blue was really for…I love this project.

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Baby dress in progress…the FO is gorgeous.

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All done! (I get to give this to its rightful owner next Saturday. I’m so excited.)

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  Finished baby dress…I love this.

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Just starting my lady sunnyside…I’m really liking cables in ravine

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   Comerica Park…the happiest place on earth

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   Love. (Rick Porcello, my Tiger.)

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  Diamonds are a girl’s best friend.

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win or lose…I’ll always love you. #baseball #detroitpride #tigers

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We want a (blackberry) shrubbery!

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Behold a shrubbery!

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Soy blackberry latte…happy Michaelmas to me!

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Blocking on my bed…part of me wants to keep this.

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They actually spelled my name correctly.

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.

To Veil or Not to Veil

“Every man praying or prophesying with anything down over his head dishonors his head, but every woman praying or prophesying with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as if her head were shaven. For if a woman will not be covered, then let her be shorn! But since it is disgraceful for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered.” (I Cor. 11: 4-6)

It was about this time of year four years ago that I made the choice to wear a chapel veil, or mantilla, during the Liturgy. In large part, I was motivated by the verse I quoted at the top of the post. I was also motivated in a very personal way by reverence for the Eucharist and for the Liturgy as a whole. As I have said to many people over the past four years, if the Eucharist (and thereby the Liturgy) are what we say that they are, then we ought to approach it with fear and trembling. It’s the Eucharist. It’s Jesus Christ, physically present to us. To me, that is something that requires incredible reverence and respect. And for me, that reverence and respect meant that I should cover my head during Liturgy.

However, I believe that this is my choice. Yes, it is guided by Scripture and Church teaching/tradition. But ultimately, this was my choice. I believe that I have been called to do this as a reflection of my own relationship with Christ. While it is something that I do in public, it is a personal decision, a personal call, and a reflection of a personal relationship. I came to this decision on my own through prayer and reflection, and as such, I do not wish to impose this on others. I don’t know if I’ll expect my (maybe possibly someday) daughters to veil-and I have been asked that before.

But as I said, it is my choice. I veil because I made that decision for myself. And I don’t want to force that decision on others. I don’t wish to make other people make the same choice that I have unless it is what they feel that they have been called to.

I say this because I have been asked by various people about my choice to veil. Most people accept it as my choice and move on. However, several months ago, a man said to me that he liked that I veiled and he wished that he could get his wife to do the same.

And that comment is what led to the writing of this blog post. He wished he could “get” his wife to do the same. Now, I won’t get into the gender roles and such involved in that statement because that’s not my point here.

Right or wrong, veiling has fallen out of common practice in the Catholic Church over the past fifty years. Now, I have several friends who veil, and I both respect and admire them for that choice. However, it is their choice. While St. Paul would like all Catholic women to veil, I believe that veiling is a personal decision. I think it is something that a women needs to explore at an individual level rather than having it imposed on her. (Goodness, I sound like a product of the early twenty-first century, don’t I?) I see veiling as a call. I see it as something that reflects, as I said earlier, my relationship with Christ. Therefore, it is something that I had to discern on my own, and I believe that every woman needs to go through her own discernment process. Does the veil fit her relationship with the Lord? If she believes that it doesn’t, then it is not for her.

One Thing Needed

Last year, I wrote my “End of Lent” reflection on the topic of why I am Catholic. I focused on how the events of Holy Week have inspired, confirmed, and upheld my faith in Christ.

This year, I’m focusing it on a “trouble area” I’ve noticed in all of my Lenten blogging. I keep talking about what I can DO. What I can do.

And sitting here on Palm Sunday, I have come to a realization that this isn’t about me. It never was. It isn’t about what actions I can take. It isn’t about getting up earlier or reading a better book or going to church more. Ultimately, while all of that is good, that is not the point here. Ultimately, the point lies in me taking up my cross and denying myself.

Ultimately, all of my Lenten devotions-and really all of my life-should be about me surrendering myself into the hands of the Master. As I was out for a walk this evening and reflecting on my Lenten experiences for 2013, a clue by four came to me. I was thinking about all of the things that I didn’t do and all of the changes that I didn’t make. And then, I was reminded of something. Only one thing is needed.

““Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10: 41-42)

Only one thing is needed. Put your life in God’s hands and stop trying to run your own life. Give God everything. That’s all that I need to do. Everything else will come from that-the prayer, the change in attitude. It will all come if I put my life, myself into God’s hands every day, and live my life for him.

Now, that’s an easy thing to say, but it’s not an easy thing to live. I’m going to need loads and loads of grace to do it. And I’m going to need humility to do it.

But that’s all that I need to do. All I need to do is swallow my pride, look at the Cross, and say, “I need you.” God will do the rest.