Sunday, May 18, 2008

Ember Days

I just noted that I haven't posted much in a couple of weeks. If you are wondering why you need merely follow the link on the post before this one and then re-read this old post. Much as we are both really and truly glad and relieved and all that about the successful defense it is all a bit anti-climactic. The darn thing is just never really done. There were a few minor corrections and then the long, angry session with Microsoft Word during which I gently reminded my husband that he was using a borrowed laptop and was not at liberty to throw it across the room. Then there's the long meeting with the Provost's secretary where you get asked questions like, "Did you even read the Dissertation Handbook?" Then there's the printing of the darn thing on expensive, archival paper. Then there is the final deposit. Then you really are done. Unless your director is really pushing you to publish it as a book this summer. And, of course, he's still job hunting. And there was no graduation. We went to a graduation party for a good friend last night and learned that there isn't even a ceremony for summer graduation. You just get a diploma in the mail. Ah, well. We postponed our trip to the Midwest and we've both spent the last two weeks looking for job openings, writing application letters and generally driving each other crazy. I think we're going to return to our old routine tomorrow wherein Eric leaves each morning and goes somewhere else to work and I will return to doing things like running my household and posting on blogs.

We've just come off our first ever observation of the Ember Days. The Ember Days are an old liturgical custom that went out in the sixties along with a lot of other stuff when the liturgical calendar was revised. The Ember Days are three days of prayer and fasting at the start of Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall. The days are actually determined by the liturgical calendar but most years they fall quite close to the actual starts of the seasons. This year was an exception with Easter coming so early. The Ember Days are the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday following the first Sunday in Lent, Pentecost Sunday, Triumph of the Cross (September 14th), and St. Lucy's Day (December 13th). The Ember Days are typically seen as ways to sanctify each season, pray for the agricultural events of the coming season, and ordain priests. They aren't celebrated very widely anymore.

The fasting issue is a bit odd in conjunction with the modern calendar. In our old Catholic dictionary a fast is described as one full meal in the afternoon along with a few ounces of bread at breakfast and 8-10 ounces of food at lunch. Not too rigorous. Only those aged 21-59 were required to fast and even those were exempt in case of illness, the need to do very hard work, pregnancy, etc. But even that sort of a fast is really difficult for me and in the old calendar (according to this same dictionary) every day in Lent was a fast day. Fridays, additionally, were days of abstinence, meaning that no meat could be eaten. In the new calendar the only fast days in the whole year are Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Abstinence from meat is required on Fridays during Lent.

Combining that new practice with the old practice of the Ember Days means, then, that the Ember Days end up being far more rigorous than Lent and I wonder if we'll find ourselves revisiting our Lenten practices next year. I struggled a lot with fasting this past Lent even though the rules are easy and it was only two days. I haven't fasted in years because of pregnancy and breastfeeding. The Ember Days were hard, too. I'm glad that the three days are broken up. We observed the one meal and two snacks rule on Wednesday and Friday and used leftover Lenten soup for our one meal so that even that was light and penitential. We broke the fast with Saturday's Lord's Day supper which, this week, was a graduation party.

It was a great experience. I do well in voluntary situations. I'm not exactly proud of that but I chafe against the "rule" of fasting during Lent even though I see a lot of benefit in following imposed rules. The voluntary observance of the Ember Days was quite motivating for me. And I did it. I don't think I even cheated on Wednesday when I gave the kids oatmeal cookies for tea time. I drank my water and read their story and survived until dinner time. It was instructive, too, to see how little food was required when I was mindful about it. I have pretty big blood sugar problems and I tend to either not eat or eat too much simple sugar and then crash. I don't often feel hungry I just start yelling at people. I've "coped" with this over the last couple years by sort of developing an "I have this sickness" mentality and just eating all the time in an effort to maintain balance but all I've really maintained is my postpartum weight. On fast days I knew that my quantity of food would be limited so I was more careful about what I ate and I took extra care to not give in to hunger and take it out on the kids during the day. I hope that more frequent times of fasting and prayer can help me with a better attitude towards food.

I'm hoping that we'll gradually find other traditions to associate with the Ember Days--special prayers, special foods, seasonal activities or crafts. And I'm looking forward to how this will impact our next Lent.

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