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All The Time Anyway

All The Time Anyway

I remember a patient several years back who came into the office with a smudge of what I thought was dirt on her forehead. She was an attractive woman in her middle thirties, impeccably dressed in a cream colored business suit that fit her body like a glove. She had high heeled leopard skin shoes. To me, that smudge of dirt was absolutely out-of-place.

We all have been in that awkward situation when seeing something like crumbs clinging to the lips of our friends after dinner or something dark colored between their teeth, thinking about how to tell someone they are in need of immediate grooming without really making them feel embarrassed. It has happened to me a number of times as both the victim and the observer. To ignore telling someone they have toilet paper on their heel of their shoe after they have emerged from a restaurant bathroom is probably as big a sin as not telling a man that his zipper is down for whatever reason.

Being thoughtful, I greeted her with a large smile and said, "How's things?" She said, "Great! I feel great." I replied, "Have you been in an old attic or a dirty basement today?" She laughed, "No. That's a strange question. Why would you think that?" Anxiously, "I see you have a smudge of dirt on your forehead. Just thought I'd say something to you about it." There was silence for a moment or two, then she laughed. "It's Ash Wednesday. I went to mass this morning."

I felt like crawling into a small cave somewhere, anywhere. "Well that explains it. What are you giving up for Lent?" She laughed, "Men!" She smiled, "Not really. Just sugar and starches. I need to lose a little weight. What a perfect way to do it." The visit continued in usual Merigian fashion. I realized that if anyone else came into the office on that day with a smudge of dirt on their forehead, I was to compliment them on their commitment to their religious convictions.


As a child, I remember the Lenten season vividly. My grandmother was a member of Saint John's Armenian Apostolic Church and attended services on Sunday regularly. I do not recall her ever having ashes smudged on her forehead. She observed Lent, so under her roof did too. We gave up meat, fish and poultry for forty days. We were strict vegans: no milk products, no chicken broth, no honey, no butter, no eggs or any foodstuff that could have been derived from an animal. We broke Lent on Easter Sunday after church service. It was not a typical church service, it was four hours or more long. I always had to dress in itchy wool pants, so I spent the entire service scratching my legs. I rolled around in the church pew like a Mexican jumping bean. When we got home, I changed clothes and made my way to the dining room dinner table. Ate meat as much as possible. Then sat down and looked through my Easter basket.
From what I remember from the teachings I received in Sunday School, Lent was traditionally described as lasting for forty days, in commemoration of the forty days which, according to the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus spent before beginning his public ministry, fasting in the desert, after which he endured temptation by the Devil. I also remember a great curtain closed the altar of our church during Lent. Many of the crosses were covered with purple satin fabric. As a kid, it seemed creepy to me. Each Sunday had a name. I remember the fourth Sunday being referred to as Mothering Sunday, the fifth one was Passion Sunday, the sixth one was Palm Sunday and the seventh was Easter. Our church would pass out palm leaves on Palm Sunday.

Between Palm Sunday and Easter, I was told by my Sunday School teachers that particular week was called Holy Week. Holy Wednesday commemorated Judas Iscariot's intent to betray Jesus. Maundy Thursday, was a day commemorated to the Last Supper shared by Christ with his disciples. When I was twelve years old, I and eleven of my class mates in Sunday School were chosen to participate in a feet washing ceremony by the priest of our church on Maundy Thursday night. It was an odd adventure to say the least and hundreds of church members watched us on the altar as our priest washed and cleaned our toes. If that does not make a young man feel odd, nothing will.

Good Friday commemorated the act of Jesus' Crucifixion. We were not allowed to go outside and play between noon and three o'clock. So we stayed indoors and watched television. Then the big day: Easter.

I am not sure why I lost my commitment to the ritual of Lent. A time during the year to sacrifice something for forty days or more. I certainly could not give up meat, fish or poultry now since I am living on a modified Paleo food plan. I would not thrive on vegetables, nuts and seeds. Some of my patients are giving up alcohol, sugar, gluten, chocolate, coffee, sweet tea, swearing and Taco Bell. Fasting generally implies one meal a day to be taken either in the evening or after 2.45 p.m. with total abstention from meat, fats, eggs and dairy products. My grandmother fasted and we (the children) deviated from her fast by eating a vegan breakfast and lunch; we had three meals.

A number of my patients give up actions considered to be a vice like smoking cigarettes, pub crawls, gambling or watching porn. Still others add something to their daily routine considered Holy, possibly bringing them closer to God or Jesus. And last, but not least, some people give time, money or sundry items of clothing to charitable purposes or organizations. If it's money or used goods, I suspect they get a tax credit of some kind in return.

If it sounds like I'm down on the idea of Lent, I apologize. I'm not. Participating in Lent is a great way to express one's sincere commitment to the mixed Holy metaphor of Jesus Christ. From what I see and hear, Lent has morphed into a forty-six day period when those who feel disturbed over their unsavory or unhealthy behaviors attempt to stop them and take a break for a short period of time. Most people never finish the Lenten season without some periodic return to the things, vices or foods they intended to sacrifice. And when Lent's over, it's game on again. I will be the first person to acknowledge our population needs to participate in Spiritually directed, Holy rituals that deepen our commitments to ourselves, our neighbors, to mankind and perhaps God and Jesus in general.

Somehow I think the idea of commemorating Jesus' forty days in the desert while being tempted by the Devil to renounce his Holiness by abstaining from McDonald's, Burger King, Domino's Pizza or Chick Filet during Lent falls very short of its ancient and sacred mark.

Besides, you should be doing that all the time anyway!

Doc
Posted by Amanda Sanders at 11:30 AM
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