For the Catholics, Lent started last Wednesday. That means that, apart from the strange ashen crosses that showed up on everyone's foreheads last week, I'm looking at a stunted diet for the next month-and-a-half.
If you're not familiar with the tradition, Lent represents the forty days that Jesus Christ spent wandering the desert after his baptism. During that time, he was subject to three temptations by the devil himself -- all of which he passed -- and consequently returned to the world of man in order to begin his ministry. Catholics commemorate this occasion (as they do with all significant events in the Bible) by abstaining from meat every Friday for forty days. Eventually everything comes to a grand end during the last week of Lent, during which Christ's death and resurrection are marked on the days of Good Friday and Easter Sunday, respectively.
If the above paragraph makes little or no sense to you, then feel free to blame me for the description. Darn it, Jim; I'm a writer, not a theologian.
What this means, as far as I'm concerned, is that I won't be seeing any chicken, pork, beef, or any sort of mystery meat every Friday till mid-April. Complicating matters is the fact that I don't happen to like seafood, and so therefore I'll be restricted to veganism once a week.
(Whatever happened to the word "vegetarian", anyway? Did it go out of use due to some imaginary negative connotation? That would be a funny thing, really, seeing that there's no obvious discernible difference between "veganism" and "vegetarianism". If you like vegetables, then you like vegetables. If you like vegetables enough to eat only vegetables, then you like vegetables enough to eat only vegetables.Nothing wrong there.)
Muddying the waters further is the fact that the Buddhists happen to be one of my favorite guilty pleasures in this regard. Devout monks of the Buddhist religion, you see, are similarly disallowed from eating meat. For that matter, they're not even allowed to consume fish. In a strange response to these restrictions, however, Buddhist kitchens are remarkably skilled at mashing bean and tofu paste into replicas of various meat dishes. These people, therefore, literally serve the equivalent of Spam without any meat at all. (There's still the question of whether or not there's any meat in Spam to begin with, but that's a topic for another time...)
So I'll be going meatless every Friday till Easter because of my Catholic followings, and I'll be going for the occasional serving of Buddhist meat-cum-vegetable creation instead. I can't help feeling that there's something wrong with that arrangement, somewhere.
What's probably even stranger is that I consider myself a non-practicing Catholic. I may be a Roman Catholic, yes, but you probably wouldn't guess it from my daily habits. I complain, I swear, and I philosophize. I wax poetic about both evolutionary theory and the notion of God as a human construct. I keep my prayer to a minimum because I invariably think of doing things myself. And in the most obvious aspect, I don't keep a regular Sunday habit that most Catholics do.
The way I see it, there are devout Catholics (mostly in the church gatherings, arguing about scandal and morals), activist Catholics (mostly in the street rallies and the mailing lists), and non-practicing Catholics; and the last category probably has my picture attached to it. So if there's anything strange about my current situation, it's the fact that I'm willingly skipping meat every Friday for the whole of Lent.
Why do I do this, anyway? I mean, it's not as though I'm going to redeem myself as a Catholic by refusing to eat meat for six weeks.
I suspect that it has something to do with my habit of self-mortification. I'm probably masochistic that way -- I constantly test myself with the strangest endeavors in order to determine if I'm... if I'm... ...well, I don't know, I guess. I obviously haven't made an ounce of sense here, so why start now?
Catholicism is strange by itself, really. We worship entities whose existence we have no way of physically proving, we engage in rituals whose meanings have all been lost in the time since they were first established, and we take our orders word-by-word from a book that has seen more printings and translations than we can count.
And we listen to those words, follow those practices, and search for those entities -- all in one vague attempt to claw our way back into meaning. We know that it all leads somewhere. The problem is that we don't know where it goes just yet.
As well-governed and established as tends to be, I won't be the first to think that general religion is just as screwed up as the rest of us, Catholicism notwithstanding. Which is why, in a sense, it fits us to a T.
So now I'm a meatless man. And I'm a Catholic, too. In fact, I'm not just any Catholic, but a non-practicing Catholic who just happens to practice one inconvenient religious tradition out of the many convenient ones. I'm a bundle of contradictions here.
But hey, no one ever said that religion was easy to understand. :)