The Oreos-God connection
Can abstaining from Oreos produce a closer communion with God?
I’ll get to that in a bit.
As you may know, we are in the early stages of Lent, a portion of the church year that I liken in some respects to a New Year’s Day hangover: a time in which to pause and soberly consider, What the hell have I been up to?
Especially if you spent the period immediately preceeding Lent in New Orleans. Trust me on this.
My Southern Baptist upbringing didn’t prepare me for Lent. In terms of the church calendar there was Christmas, and Easter, and that pretty much covered things.
Lint, I knew. Lent, not so much.
If pressed, I might have assumed it was one of those observances left to Roman Catholics, a relatively rare breed in my hometown who attended a service called “Mass,” might wear a St. Christopher medal around their neck and sometimes produced large families (for reasons I didn’t then understand).
Don’t get me wrong. Some of my best friends (and the first girl I ever kissed) were Catholic. I thought the concept was appealingly exotic. I just had no clue what beliefs it involved.
Baptist Sunday school is not big on instruction about other groups.
Times change, my denomination changed, and for the past 20-plus years Lent has been an annual period in which I generally undertake a fast of some sort as an exercise in physical and spiritual discipline.
Some years I’ve gone a different route – adding, rather than subtracting. But my vows for daily Bible reading or meditation always seemed to lack a certain … devotion, you might say.
Early fasting versions included giving up meat, or smoking, or non-sacramental alcohol. But each poses a problem now: I’ve pretty much given up smoking anyway; I wouldn’t want to subject my wife to a meatless diet; and spring training baseball (which always falls within Lent) would not be the same without a refreshing brew. Or two.
So lately I’ve pretty much settled into eliminating sweets during the 40 days (excluding Sundays) of Lent, an admittedly feeble but sincere commemoration of Jesus’ 40 days of fasting in the desert before his ministry.
Which bring us to that question of whether abstaining from Oreos or Snickers or the like brings one in closer communion with God. To which I would say, not exactly. But there’s something about a forbidden fruit, as the Bible’s tale of Eden so aptly illustrates, that tends to focus desire. I sometimes think that if I instead gave up asparagus, which I never eat anyway, I’d quickly develop a craving for it.
And so every time I feel the urge for something sweet – like, say, the praline pecans my wife has left so provocatively visible in a kitchen tower – I’m reminded of why I’m not eating it. And there’s the Oreos-God connection.
Some people suggest that, instead of some alimentary sacrifice, a more reverent Lent could involve forgoing some other things. Instead of chocolate, say, why not give up impatience, blame, guilt, hatred, bitterness, worry, pride, envy …
To me, that misses the point. One of the great things about a Lenten fast is finally breaking it. My meatless period, for instance, ended with perhaps the best roast beef po-boy in history. Last year I had some killer brownies.
Giving up something you don’t want to start again? That’s cheating.
Joe Rogers worked for The Clarion-Ledger, The Tennessean and The New York Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jrogink.