Taming the Wild Beasts in My Lenten Desert

I am studying a package of graham crackers with a quizzical eye. Although it may not be obvious to the casual observer, I am actually engaging in a bit of philosophy as I lift a cracker and carefully turn it over in my hands.

It’s Lent, and what’s happening is very predictable. You see, I’ve given up sweets, so now I’m questioning the meaning of the term.

In short, I want to know: Does a graham cracker count as a cookie? If it’s a cookie, of course it’s off-limits, but if it’s a cracker—well, you get the picture.

I recall how incensed I was when a friend confided that she always gave up sweets for Lent, and then ordered one of those double-chocolate lattes with whipped cream on top.

I didn’t say a word to her, but my holier-than-thou persona was kicking up quite a fuss. It was shouting, “Girlfriend, drinking those fancy coffees is cheating!”

Later, I realized what was really going on: I was actually confronting my Lenten beasts.

St. Mark mentions that there were wild animals with Christ when he went into the desert. There is no description of them, and there needn’t be, because the very thought gives me the creeps.

There was Jesus, going without food for 40 days in the desert, a lonely place where the temperatures plummet at night. He was no doubt hungry and shivering—and what did he have to contend with? Wild animals!

Then I think about my own Lenten menagerie.

First there’s the big slobbering beast called pride. He’s the one who goads me to pass judgment on other people’s Lenten sacrifices. I feel the hideous heat of his heinous breath whenever someone tells me what they’re sacrificing for Lent, and I think: “Hah! That’s nothing!”

Pride hangs around with another fellow, a horned, hirsute beast called self-pity. Especially on mornings when I have the blues, this monster assures me that a nice cupcake will cheer me up.

“But what about breaking my Lenten promise?” I protest, and he murmurs: “God will understand.”

I try to banish self-pity by reminding myself of all the comforts I’m not giving up during Lent. There’s my morning cup of fragrant coffee, my two mugs of milky tea at lunch, and my weekend glasses of wine.

And let’s not forget my fluffy pig slippers, my plush bed complete with feather pillows, and those luxuriously long hot showers.

I think you get the picture. I’m living a rather lavish life, to put it mildly, so there’s no reason for me to expect to sprout a halo just because I’m going without sweets.

But then, just as I think I’ve vanquished all the monsters, another one shows up. He’s a ferocious furry fellow with fetid fangs—and he is carrying, of all things, a dictionary.

“Just what IS a sweet anyway?” he asks me. And then we are off and running: Does a frosted muffin count? What about animal crackers?

Lest the beasts get the best of me, I ponder what else was mentioned in that Scriptural passage about Christ’s stay in the desert: “Angels came and ministered to him.”

Obviously, it’s time I prayed for some angels to show up. Surely they’ll help me during Lent as I strive to tame this menagerie of monsters.

And who knows? The angels also might have the definitive answer on the graham cracker question.

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About the Author

Lorraine is the author of “The Abbess of Andalusia: Flannery O’Connor’s Spiritual Journey.” She also has written three mysteries, most recently “Death Dons a Mask.” Her email is lorrainevmurray@yahoo.com. All of her books can be seen on her website is www.lorrainevmurray.com.

Lorraine V. Murray grew up in Miami, and graduated from Immaculata Academy High School. One of the nuns there predicted that if Lorraine went to a secular college, she would be in great danger of losing her faith. Lorraine thought that was funny, but in fact the sister’s prediction came true.

Majoring in English at the University of Florida, Lorraine bid farewell to her Catholicism when she was 19. She went on to get a Ph.D. in philosophy and became a radical feminist and atheist for over 20 years.

After teaching courses in English and philosophy on the college level, Lorraine worked as an editor in a university publications office. In her forties, the Lord called her back to her Catholic roots, and she went on to write about her conversion journey in her book “Confessions of an Ex-Feminist.”

Her recent books are "Death of a Liturgist," a fun-filled mystery featuring murder and mayhem in a Georgia parish, and "The Abbess of Andalusia," which explores Flannery O'Connor's Catholic journey. All her books can be seen at www.lorrainevmurray.com (link provided below).

Lorraine writes regular columns for the religion section of “The Atlanta Journal-Constitution” and “The Georgia Bulletin.” She lives in Decatur, Georgia, with her husband, Jef, a Tolkien artist and book illustrator. In her spare time, she bakes bread, watches hummingbirds, and chases squirrels out of her garden.

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