Lent, Plants, and the Regeneration of Life.
In a colloquial sense, the vast majority of us consider the Lenten holiday to be a time of moderate deprivation, wherein we allow ourselves to be somewhat removed from the pleasures of this world, pleasures that we hold dear to us, whether they manifest themselves in the form of chocolate, social media, or what have you. The practice of “doing” Lent is often thought of in the framework of a forty day fast, wherein we seek to gain an enhanced appreciation for a spiritual renewal and a refreshed sense of wonder of the lives we live.
Traditionally, at least during the early phases of the Lenten holiday, it was considered customary to remove oneself from the consumption of all animal products for the duration of the forty day period. This practice of complete abstention did tend to vary, however, between the various geographical regions and variety of cultures that practiced Lent within the Catholic and Protestant traditions. A more careful examination of the abstentions (or lack thereof, as history moved closer to the present day) regarding the consumption of living creatures allows us to understand that, as we see today, our forefathers and various ancestors were often just as confused and unaware of the moral implications of their dietary habits as people are today.
During the Middle Ages, a prohibition on meat during Lent was generally considered to be the law of the land, but dairy products were exempted if one were to provide a donation to be put towards the constructions of the churches, highlighting just how connected we were (and still are) to the idea of animals and economics being bonded together rather inseparably. Many years later, the admonishment to remove all dairy and eggs from one’s Lenten practice was temporarily retracted if an individual were to provide his service to the Crusades. I find these practices to be fascinating from a sociological perspective, while I’m nevertheless horrified from a compassionate perspective.
While there were several varieties of prohibitions on the consumption of animal products during historical occurrences of Lent, the vast majority of us no longer take our marching orders from a hierarchal, overarching religious order such as the Church, and society is no longer structured around a communal adherence to a single abstention, such as the forty day prohibition. By and large, we choose our own practices to adhere to during lent, and we don’t often see millions of people going vegan for lent, with one key exception. Through the Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic churches throughout Europe, its still quite common to consume animal-free, or vegan, meals during Lent, as well as consuming less food in general, so as to practice the ideals of fasting, in order to bring about a sense of communion with the more spiritual aspects of ourselves.
From a moral perspective, its still a bit unethical to temporarily abstain from consuming violence and suffering and then pick up the habit once more, but the priests who commissioned their flocks to eat and live compassionately during this time of Lent were certainly aware of something critical. When we remove anguish and misery from our plates, we begin the process of removing them from our spirits, as well. As we eat a compassionate, cruelty-free meal in which no living being was harmed, we move closer to a sense of peace within our souls. The season of Lent traditionally ends with concept of regeneration, the rebirth of a Savior, as the world leaves the darkness of Winter and begins the embrace of the light, the Spring. May we as individuals recognize that this form of rebirth is possible even outside of lent, as we move towards living a life that provides peace, health, and wellness, along with the practice of compassion towards all living beings.