Both of my parents grew up in Catholic households, but neither passed their religious disciplines onto their children. So, growing up, the time between Ash Wednesday, and Holy Thursday, never had much weight to me, except it was a time to join a lot of my friends in their tests of discipline.
I wish I had better insight into why the practice of discipline excites me. I think it is because I can be rather competitive, and that I see discipline as a competition against myself: will versus desire. Because I would see my friends playing this game, I always wanted to cheer them on, help them win, and selfishly, I wanted to play.
But I wouldn't only play with my Catholic friends. When my Muslim friend would fast during Ramadan, I would not eat during daylight. When my friends would dabble in vegetarianism, I would order meatless cuisines. But the most notable of these endeavors, was when my friend, Alec, gave up "sauces" for lent.
Tobasco/Franks/Siracha/Pickapepper/you name it, Alec would put sauce on everything he ate short of cereal. He didn't have a sauce cabinet, he had a sauce pantry. Alec LOVED sauce! "I love Jesus more," was his response.
I also happen to love sauce(s), it was one of the ways that Alec and I bonded. So shortly after an Ash Wednesday a few years back, Alec and I met up for our typical adventure of having a few (too many) drinks at the nearest bar, walking home and engaging in a good old fashioned nom-fest (eating after a night of drinking to prevent a hangover). Works every time, believe me.
Alec and I are preparing our noodles while I question what he isn't allowing himself to consume. He pulls out a variety of dry spices, and when the noodles are done he dry spices the heck out of his food, and looks into his bowl: Noodles covered in powders, peppers, and flakes. It looked particularly unappetizing. He was proud. And he couldn't wait to eat it to prove his love for Jesus. I was happy for Alec, I wanted to support his cause, and I wanted to see if I could also will myself into eating a bowl of pasta lathered in dry spices. As my hand reached passed the sauces that Alec placed on the counter as an offering, I saw his brow wrinkle.
"I want to support you, and don't want to feed your temptations by eating sauce around you." Alec was puzzled, and while we ate, he continued to encourage me to use sauce. At some point, his encouragement turned to pressure, and my challenge quickly changed from beating my own desire to sauce my food, to beating Alec's desire to sauce my food. This discussion built in intensity until Alec shouted "If you're not eating sauce, makes me feel like I'm not giving up that much!"
From that point forward, there were no words, only the sounds of our dried out mouths smacking our spoons full of dry food. I can't say how Alec reflects on this moment, but I remember washing my dishes, gentle exchanges of "goodnight, man," and lying deep in thought of the relationship of support, love, and competition, in the game of discipline. What were we trying to prove? And to who?