As I consider some religious themes this month and put pen to paper to begin writing my weekly reflection, yet another major storm is forecast for the Maritimes. We are halfway through March, and with the promise of spring teasing us, we realize we are still in the grip of winter here. This month generally represents spring across the Northern Hemisphere. There is a new sense of life, change, growth and renewal. Across the road from my house, the cattle are becoming more frisky in warmer days and brighter sun; the cock pheasants in my backyard are being more, well, cocky, and their courting rituals show signs of beginning. The days are longer, and soon we come to the Spring Equinox.
Many religious traditions have specific observances and celebrations in the spring time of the year. In Judaism, the celebration of Purim is followed by Passover. In Christianity, the forty days of Lent lead to the celebration of Easter. Those who follow Baha’i enter into a time of fasting that extends over nineteen days, which leads to the marking of their new year at the Spring Equinox. Hinduism has observed a spring festival dedicated to Krishna. Zoroastrianism celebrates the creation of human beings and honours those who are gone. This observance, Hamaspathmaidyem Gahanbar, takes place in the springtime and culminates with the anniversary of the prophet Zarathustra (Zoroaster) near the end of March. Within the Wiccan and Pagan traditions, Ostara marks the celebration of the arrival of spring, and is observed at the Spring Equinox.
I have had the many religious celebrations of this month on my mind and have been reflecting on the role of fasting and feasting in each. Fasting is a significant act of preparation in many traditions. It takes different forms, but often include abstaining from food from sunrise to sunset. Fasting can serve to focus the mind, body and spirit on things beyond the material and bodily. It can teach self control, prepare the body for the coming feast, serve as a way to enhance concentration or focus in prayer, devotion, meditation. It can be a sign of commitment to a religious figure who fasted, a form of solidarity with the poor and the hungry of the world, or it could be a symbol of standing against a prevailing consumer culture. Fasting can be a humbling experience, opening one not only to the divine presence, but to others in the world. Within the Christian tradition, the Lenten fast of forty days was broken each Sunday (a feast day) and could be broken with significant celebrations that might fall during Lent.
Feasts bring fasts to a close, joining people together to celebrate community, faith, the earth and its goodness, and perhaps the coming of spring and the promise of the earth’s renewal.
I have become increasingly aware, in our North American culture, of the solitude and the haste with which meals are eaten. Away from the temples, mosques, shrines and churches, meals are an opportunity to gather as family or members of a community, not only to eat but to be reminded of the passing of time, the observance of religious ritual and a sense of spiritual identity.
Whether we are religious or not and whether we fast or not, the encouragement I would offer in this springtime of the year is to approach meals as a spiritual rite, an opportunity to be reminded of who we are, to see again the goodness of our earth and to give thanks and to be mindful of what and who we have around us. To eat together is to celebrate together, to remember together, and to look forward together.
Eating is not just an act to nourish the body. Eating can nourish the community, the soul and the world. When I eat bread and sip wine in Christian communion, I am reminded not only of the last supper that Jesus shared with the disciples, but also of the way in which breaking bread together can bring people together, in and across communities of faith. My own task through the remainder of Lent will be to eat gratefully, mindfully, and where possible, communally. To do this is to eat religiously, meaningfully, and even hopefully. To eat well is to celebrate life itself, in the spring and always.