In these veggie-friendly times, how can we avoid breaking the spirit of a fast when keeping the letter of the law is so easy?
I had just finished ordering lunch at a Thai restaurant when my co-worker said, "I thought you said that this was Lent."
"I did," I said, confused by his question.
"Well, what's with the shrimp? I thought you didn't eat critters during Lent."
"Most critters, true. Shrimp are one of the loopholes."
There, I'd said it. Loophole. I cringed almost the instant the word left my mouth. I knew I'd have to give a satisfactory explanation to my buddy Sean, who loved to play the devil's advocate. If there's anybody who can keep me on my toes, it's Sean. For a non-believer, he'd make a great spiritual Father: He can cut through my hooey in no time flat.
I sighed and then provided the various and sundry explanations that had been given to me over the years: Shrimp aren't kosher, so the original Christians who made up the fasting rules didn't even think to put it on "the list" since they were all Jews. That didn't fly. Then I tried the one I'd heard about not consuming blood, and because a shrimp's circulation...well, that didn't fly either.
The shrimp arrived, and I remembered my favorite explanation, one given to me by an old Greek monk. According to the venerable monk, ancient Romans thought shrimp and sea creatures were like bugs: "It is penitent'sial to eating the s'rimp." Sean look at my shrimp--with its head, legs, and claws, its large spiny horn protruding between the stalk that were its eyes--and bought that one.
Upon consuming my sea bug, I thought about Lent and the fast. The fourth week of Great Lent commemorates St. John Climakos, who wrote that great spiritual classic "The Ladder of Divine Ascent," which describes the steps in the ascent to God in the spiritual life.
I'm reminded of an icon of this ladder that I saw once. As a multitude of monks and priests and bishops struggle up the ladder, many are being pulled off by gleeful imps and devils. This sobering icon shows that even the holiest among us are beset by demons, and many don't survive the struggle.
I for one don't think I've even approached the Step Stool of Squeaking By. Right now I'm on the Escalator of Easy Living. It's true I'm facing Up, but it's a Down escalator. As long as we keep facing up and walking forward, we're going to stay in one place. It's going to take effort to get off this escalator. Thank God for Lent!