As a child, I thought Lent was a great time. The precursor was Pancake Tuesday, when we’d arrive in our droves to my grandmother’s house for the mound of pancakes bigger then the famed EU sugar mountain, waiting for us over the pot of boiling water. I thought nothing of it at the time. But now that I’m responsible for making my own pancakes (woe is me) I realise that my Nan must have been standing at the frying pan since she woke up that morning – and had quite a pain in her arm for her troubles.
Anyway, the following morning I’d implement the ban on the sweets, chocolates, crisps (usually whichever I liked least at the time – no point setting insurmountable targets for myself). Of course, there were exceptions to the rule. Like St Patrick’s Day, or maybe Sundays, or maybe Friday nights, or when the same Nan would buy me a pre-Easter Easter Egg (I hold her fully accountable for my rampant sweet tooth). But my intentions were good back then.
These days, however, I thought it would be a little hypocritical of me to embrace the spirit of Lent, since anything I gave up would predominantly be for the health benefits. I reckon 40 days without sugar would do wonders for my hips and hyperactive bouts. All I’d really be doing is extending the January detox regime and that’s hardly what one would call self-flagellating in the name of Christianity, now is it?
I know what I’d love to have the willpower and presence to give up. Worrying! Worrying about the state of the nation, worrying about the ever-increasing dole queues, worrying about how clueless our politicians seem when I turn on the news every night. I’ve always been an optimist (a bit of a Pollyanna at times, to the profound irritation of my nearest and dearest). But, with the downturn in the economy and the general air of recession, I can’t seem to shake off that awful, anxious feeling that the country is well and truly tubed. And they want me to cut out sugar???
In the search for a more constructive approach to the Season of Abstinence I came across the Church of England’s Love Life Live Lent campaign last weekend, which encourages people not to just give up things for Lent, but to replace them with simple acts of generosity each day, locally, nationally and globally. The campaign is supported by a special booklet, the LiveLent website, a Facebook group, a Myspace page, a Flickr group and various blogs and suggested actions range from making someone laugh to buying a Fair Trade product. There are 40 in all, one action for each day and most of them are non-religious and appropriate for those of all faiths or none. Here are some highlights:
* Spend less: it makes personal, economic and environmental sense and most of us have already started to rein in our weekly spending limit.
* Stop jockeying for power and influence. This could be in the smallest of actions, like giving up attempting to have the last word in every discussion. Try being quiet. Even tougher, try listening.
* Spend a day trying to exist on just £1.40 – more than half the world’s population have only that amount to spend each day.
* Discovering the names of your closest neighbours.
* Own up. The advice is to say sorry for your past wrongs, get it off you’re your chest and you’ll feel better for it.
* Think about your death. Okay, okay, I know I said I’m trying to stop worrying. But think about what people will have to say about you after you’re gone. Are you happy with it? If not, a la Scrooge, start doing something about that dented image.
* Say something nice about someone behind their back, particularly if you’re in the habit of criticism.
Sugar free food for though, maybe?