It was a quiet Tuesday night when my roommate and I decided to take a trip to the U-Store. We were trying to go less frequently, as the store takes so much of our money, but we both knew we had a late night of work ahead of us. We went our separate ways, weaving in and out of the aisles for the perfect snack. I checked the ingredients list of everything I picked up. “How on earth do these chips have milk in them?”
I went through all the dark chocolate in the hopes of finding a reasonably priced, milk-free bar. The last straw was when I picked up a dark chocolate Snickers and found, not milk, but egg whites. “What is the point of egg whites in this!” My frustration startled a man next to me, who wryly asked, “What have you got against egg whites? It sounds serious.” Jackie and I both laughed and responded, “We’re fasting.”
Lent is about 40 days long, typically starting on Ash Wednesday and ending on the day before Easter. Because many Christian denominations observe it, there are a number of distinctions between the traditions of each one. For example, my roommate is Catholic, and it is her practice to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, the Friday before Easter.
Furthermore, Catholics do not eat meat on these days, as well as all Fridays of Lent. I, however, am Greek Orthodox. Lent begins on Clean Monday, which is not always the same week as Ash Wednesday — just like our Easter, Pascha, does not always fall on the same day as many Western Christian denominations. And for fasting, we are essentially vegan. While I have not always been fully vegan for Lent, I decided to do so this year, and Jackie joined me.
But here is the point where some may ask: Why does this matter, especially if I’m neither Catholic nor Greek Orthodox?
There are many reasons why learning about someone’s religion, or general way of life, is worthy of merit. But I think the greatest is that there is always a takeaway that is valuable even for those who do not practice.
As of late, I’ve had a lot of conversations with friends of different religions and ways of life. One of my roommates, a good friend in my a cappella group, is Jewish, and I’ve found myself discussing her practices and involvement with the Center for Jewish Life on campus. My other roommate practices secular humanism, which I’ve learned celebrates ethics, human goodness and justice. Moreover, she took a seminar on the intersections between Buddhism and science, and just last week, we talked about Buddhism for about an hour over dinner. I learned about the way practicing Buddhists seek balance through the Middle Way, in avoidance of extremism of any emotion.
When discussing all these faiths, I had an inordinate number of questions and comments. I can’t say I agreed with every aspect of each one, but there were facets that made me think deeply. And this is what makes hearing about other traditions and sharing your own so special. There is no such thing as total agreement about which way of life is best. Even within these individual faiths, there is disagreement. But this is true in almost every part of life — politics, science, literature. But were this to hinder us from listening to each other, we would never learn from one another and progress collectively.
My faith is an inherently personal thing, but it affects my actions and interactions with others. An employee manual for a Christian would undoubtedly have listed, “Spread the gospel.” Truthfully, I don’t think this means, “Personally ensure that everyone you encounter is a Christian or becomes one.” That’s a strenuous task and, historically, human application of it can lead to undesirable results. Rather, I will happily tell you of my traditions in the hopes that you gain something personally.
Lent is a perfect example of this. The observation may seem extraneous for those who don’t see the purpose of constant prayer, penance and atonement. My roommate, Rebecca, is proof that any form of fasting may have benefits. Of course, avoiding meats and cheeses and dairy is first a battle of willpower. But after week three, week four, week five, you realize something: You don’t truly need these things. You’ve been programmed by your environment to attach yourself to these earthly things. Forty days doesn’t create a greater willpower; it gives you freedom. And I think this is something that anyone of any faith can appreciate.
Lea Trusty is a sophomore from Saint Rose, La. She can reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.