Lent, the ongoing Christian season of penance and prayer before Easter, began on Ash Wednesday (February 22) and ends on Holy Saturday (April 7) this year. I went to the Catholic Church in Bangkok's Ruamrudee area on the first Sunday of Lent to hear the teaching and it was, as always, uplifting and cleansing.
The biggest message of Lent is ‘letting go’ of all negativity. The congregation is asked to show it symbolically through giving up something — perhaps a favourite dish, drink or TV programme.
These are small, everyday pleasures in our busy, crowded lives. So what’s the big deal, you say, in ‘fasting’, of temporarily abstaining from meat, drink and football? All religions seem to value fasting (ideally in moderation, for as the Taittiriya Upanishad firmly says, ‘Annam brahmeti vyajanaat’, nourishment is of God).
Perhaps temporary fasting is upheld because it’s seen as a preparatory body-and-mind practice. If we can handle this physical give-up by the will of our mind, perhaps we are then made ready inside for the real work: letting go of bad feelings.
Ah, forgiveness, you say, that preached-forever practice? Well, yes. Horrible things happen to us all, some more horrible to bear and get past than others. It’s one thing obviously to feel honest outrage and righteous wrath against injustice and malpractice.
But what about all the people who ever hurt us or wronged us or dented our self-esteem or cast us out into the world to fend anyhow? Why should we let them live in our heads as rent-free tenants? Hit ‘Delete Forever’. That’s half the message of Lent.
Welcome now to the hardest part: to actually ask for the well-being of our enemies, of those who willfully hurt us or harmed us. Are we capable of that leap of faith? For faith it certainly is; a leap of faith, a running jump off the cliff to float free forever: meat for strong stomachs.
So let’s get back to real food. Forgiveness, I submit, is like the Bananas-Foster at ‘Bourbon St’, a Cajun restaurant and oyster bar in Bangkok. Listed several times among ‘the world’s best bars’ and as ‘best American restaurant in Bangkok’, Bourbon St. is one of those hassle-free hangouts. As desserts go, its star item, ‘Bananas-Foster’ is unbelievably good: bananas flambéed in molasses and rum, served with ice-cream. After the long day’s journey into night, it’s heaven.
Could that be the aftertaste of forgiveness?
Renuka Narayanan writes on religion and culture