Skydiving and Lent

Lent is fast approaching. How I see it and what I do is up to me. Ash Wednesday is next week, so I don’t have much time to decide.

Christians, Catholic and otherwise, in my culture generally change what we eat for this season. I’m a Catholic, so I’ve got rules.

But not all that many. Mostly they’re guidelines. I put a link to my territory’s rules about diet under ‘Fast & Abstinence‘ near the end of this post. Other resources, too.1

Days of Yore

The rules probably wouldn’t suit folks who yearn for the ‘good old days.’

They’ve changed. The rules, I mean.

I strongly suspect that kvetching about today and longing for days of yore is as old as humanity.

Some rules and definitions haven’t changed much, though.

For Lenten purposes, I see “meat” as what we get from mammals and birds, but not seafood. I’m not sure where frogs fit in.

Living in the era I do, I realize that muscle tissue in different sorts of animals is pretty much the same stuff. Not quite identical, and that’s another topic.

Some differences are important for cooks and butchers, others for scientists. I can use those viewpoints if I’m thinking about food or natural philosophy. That won’t stop me from switching to my faith’s definitions where they’re needed.

Common Sense

One of the rules I live with says Catholics should fast during Lent.

That doesn’t mean I stop eating and expect a miracle to keep me alive until Easter. It’s a bit more complicated. And reasonable.

Ash Wednesday is a ‘fasting’ day.

In my territory fasting is one complete meatless meal and optional other food that doesn’t add up to a meatless meal. That’s what I did until recently. The rule doesn’t apply to folks over 59, which includes me.

More complications. Catholics between 18 and 59 follow the fasting rules. Unless a physical or mental illness means choosing between fasting and taking health risks.

Bishops in my country put it this way: “…In all cases, common sense should prevail….”

My diabetes makes fasting dubiously prudent. That’s true for some healthy folks, too.

Women who are nursing would most likely survive fasting, and so would their babies. But like the bishops said, we’ve got brains and should use them. Holiness and healthiness aren’t at war.

Shish Kebab vs. Baked Fish

Those jousters in the foreground notwithstanding, I’m pretty sure Bruegel the Elder didn’t see Lent as a war between shish kebab and baked fish.

Or something like that. Shish kebab is marinated meat and vegetables on a skewer. All I see there is meat.

Oh great. Now I’m hungry.

My next meal won’t come for a while, so I’d better think of something besides food. Or maybe not.

I saw an obvious bit of symbolism in Bruegel the Elder’s painting. Obvious to me, anyway. The joust between rotisserie meats and baked fish clearly represents our great struggle.

On the one hand we have diet food that makes you look sick and wish you were dead. On the other are hearty meats that won’t put a bucket on your head.

The hearty food fellow seems to be pushed by someone wearing a lampshade. Likely enough there’s quite a party going on somewhere. Probably the inn.

Much more seriously, I still haven’t picked what I’ll do for Lent this year.


I could be giving up skydiving this year. And mountain climbing. I could renounce trying out for the Olympics, too.

That might work for other folks, but not me. I could fall out of a plane or off a building, but never tried. Or wanted to.

The other two activities? I can’t do either. I might as well “give up” my nonexistent pro basketball career.

I have many options. Some reasonable, some less so.

Some folks in my circles are going offline for Lent — refraining from socializing online. It might make sense. Maybe.

But I won’t be changing my online habits.

Not much, anyway. I’d consider a Web-less Lent if superficial chatter and sharing cat photos was the attraction. Or seeing what various artists are doing. Which occasionally is photographing a cat. Not often, though. Nothing wrong with any of that, I think.

I see it as a matter of balance.

Quite a bit of what I do online involves this blog, prayer, or other related activity. It’s my “work,” in a sense. Or vocation as a Catholic layperson. (August 14, 2016)

Besides, I’m human.

Part of the human vocation is being in communities. Communities can be good or bad news, depending on how we act. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 18781889)

The communities I’m in are mostly online. Dropping out is an option. But putting my human vocation on ‘pause’ during Lent doesn’t seem prudent.

Doing What I Can

Internet communities aren’t like societies where folks meet face-to-face.

Some descriptions of ‘real’ communities approach the lyrical.

“…We can see his face, evaluate the sincerity of his smile, the purity of his gaze. We can shake his hand and measure his conviction, and his human warmth. In my body I experience the beauty of relationships, of which the physical limits are not a mortal shell, but a permeable boundary that permits communion….”
(“Technology and the New Evangelization: Criteria for Discernment,” Fr. Jonah Lynch, FSCB; Michelle K. Borras; Catholic Information Service (2012))

I’d probably prefer ‘real’ socializing to online interaction. If observing and analyzing what the other person was doing was less challenging.

It’s what most folks apparently do almost without thinking. That’s not quite my experience. I deal with something on the autism spectrum, among other things. (December 17, 2017)

I’m getting better at interpreting facial expressions and body language. Accurately replicating appropriate expressions and gestures is something else.

I gather it’s “natural” for most, as well as involving learned skills. It’s almost certainly more “learned” and less “natural” for me.

I’m moderately competent at interacting with others.

The good news is that decades of effort produced results. The less-than-ideal news is that folks with psychiatric and psychological training identify my autism thing in a few seconds. My guess is that many or most non-professionals just notice that I’m odd.

And they’re right. That’s okay. Being “normal” might be nice, but it’s not an option. I’ve spent my life doing and enjoying what I can. (November 12, 2017; March 19, 2017)

Giving up some optional pleasure for Lent is a good way to unite “… to the mystery of Jesus in the desert.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 540) says it’s a sort of penance: “an act of self-mortification or devotion performed voluntarily to show sorrow for a sin or other wrongdoing.

Penance isn’t NSSI, Non-Suicidal Self Injury. More about that later. Penance, that is.

Gloominess, Giddiness, and Weirdness

Despite the impression some folks give, “blessed are the miserable” isn’t one of the Beatitudes. (Matthew 5:312)

If sociologists have a ‘conservation of weirdness’ principle, I’m pretty sure it’s called something else. “Weirdness” doesn’t sound very scholarly.

My guess is that there’s something like ‘conservation of weirdness,’ recognized or not. That’s just a guess, though.

Over the last half-century, I seem to have been seeing about the same fraction of oddballs. What’s changed is what they’re dismal about.

I ran into more ‘gloominess is next to Godliness’ in my youth. I’m seeing more ‘we’re all gonna die’ disciples of environmental angst these days. It’s a real shift in cultural focus, more in my head than real, or something else.

Giddiness doesn’t strike me a path to Godliness either. It’s not happiness that’s a problem, and that’s yet another topic. Or maybe not so much.

Decades of undiagnosed depression and what I think is a basically upbeat personality don’t encourage me to see despondency as a virtue. (October 22, 2017; May 12, 2017; February 10, 2017; July 10, 2016)

Let’s face it. I’m a mess. But that shouldn’t keep me from seeking truth, holiness, and God.


Getting back to penance: it’s part of the conversion, penance, and satisfaction process we need when we mess up our relationship with God. It’s a good idea. (Catechism, 14311470)

Doing stuff others can see might be useful, or not. What matters is what happens inside me, turning my thoughts and desires away from offenses against truth and reason. And toward God. (Catechism, 14301432)

This interior penance gets done — mainly — by prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. (Catechism, 1434)

I’m not doing all the ‘conversion’ work myself, happily. Part of the trick is cooperating with God. (Catechism, 1428)

Today’s American culture doesn’t encourage self-inflicted pain and suffering. Not as an allegedly-pious practice that is. Some folks apparently get a kick out of being hurt, and that’s a whole different sort of weirdness.

Over the last couple millennia, some Christians have gotten overly-enthusiastic about penance. Or maybe they didn’t quite see distinctions between self-imposed limits and self-inflicted pain. And that’s yet again another topic, for another post. Maybe. Someday.

I’ve talked about health, virtue, swooning Saints and ham sandwiches before. I’m not sure what I’d make of a beatific vision. (January 7, 2018; July 2, 2017; October 16, 2016)


Having access to two millennia of assorted spiritual exercises is a good thing. But it can be a tad overwhelming.

The trick isn’t finding something.

It’s finding something that I can do that fits my native culture.

That’s a good sort of problem to have.

So is having a few more days before Lent starts.

Ash Wednesday is my deadline for deciding what I’ll do for Lent, and getting last year’s palms to the church. And that’s still another topic.

More; mostly life, the universe, and inner conversion:

1 Lenten resources, a short list:

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About Brian H. Gill

I was born in 1951. I'm a husband, father and grandfather. One of the kids graduated from college in December, 2008, and is helping her husband run businesses and raise my granddaughter; another is a cartoonist and artist; #3 daughter is a writer; my son is developing a digital game with #3 and #1 daughters. I'm also a writer and artist.
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6 Responses to Skydiving and Lent

  1. mr o shays says:

    St. Terese of the little way always guides in these matters.

  2. Great post. Various subjects to discuss.

    For Lent I am giving up hope. I shall be miserable and seek solitude. I prefer online communities to real people. With real people they want to shake hands. I don’t like that. I don’t know where they have been or whether they have washed their hands. The also cough and splutter and spread germs. You don’t get that with online communities. They can cough as much as they want and I get no germs from them. But I occasionally get a virus. That’s another story. And it can be tiresome getting a virus. My techy guy comes in and somehow cleans my computer. For extra security I wipe the monitor with a disinfectant in case some viruses still exist in the corners and edges of the screen where the glass meets the frame. The techy guy scratches his head and says nothing.

    Please don’t give up your Blog for Lent. Because that would mean punishing me in not having to read your Blog for Lent which was not on my list of things to give up.

    God bless.

    • 🙂 Sounds like a plan. My plans include keeping this blog on schedule.

      What actually happens, of course, isn’t entirely up to me. God’s God, I’m not, and everyone should find that reassuring. And that’s another topic. Topics.

      Thanks for stopping by – virtually. I’d been wondering how Monday would start, and now I know.

  3. irishbrigid says:

    Missing word: “Those jousters the foreground notwithstanding,”

    Missing punctuation: “appropriate expressions and gestures is something else”

    The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

    • Wow. Two words in, and I miss something. That may set some sort of record. Stop the press! Rewrite the front page! And get me some coffee!!!!!!!

      *Ahem.* Seriously, fixed and thanks! Actually, sleep might be the better idea at the moment. Coffee later. Tomorrow morning, I think. 🙂

Thanks for taking time to comment!