A Lenten Reflection
Last week on Facebook I posted a question regarding fasting.
This is a common topic in Orthodox Facebook groups this time of the year, but I did feel I never quite got my point across.
My question was regarding charity. In this pandemic lockdown, we are frequently encouraged to order or use pick up from local restaurants who are currently closed down for normal business. Delivering or pick up is often the only source of income they have at this time.
Since this year was, for me personally, a very good one, I had taken to doing just that. And now Lent has arrived.
More or less.
I cannot provide every homeless person in my country with help, housing, jobs etc. I don’t have the means. So I do what I can, and that is giving alms, in the full knowledge that I give alms because I cannot give what is needed. It is economia, but for me.
Charity means we give what we can when we cannot give what is needed. That is legitimate and there’s nothing wrong with it; each of us on our own cannot fix the whole world.
That is the perversion I felt in the idea of withdrawing legitimate business transactions, which is what is needed and what I am capable of doing, and replace it with almsgiving – which is not what is needed and less than what I am capable of: Lent is about giving more. Not about giving less.
The second point is about dignity.
After nearly twenty years on welfare, I can honestly say that it does not leave one with a whole lot of self-worth. When you are given something, gratitude is expected. It creates not just a financial dependence, but an emotional one – there is an expectation, often even a demand, to experience and express certain feelings and behave in certain ways.
Of course, we are clearly instructed to give without expecting anything back, particularly during Lent, but an honest look at ourselves will teach us this is harder than it appears.
As many of us with disabilities experience, we are often forced into reliance on charity because it is the easier option than to allow us to earn our living. Living on charity takes away autonomy and limits whatever self-reliance we could achieve. When something better could be achieved but the better option is deliberately not chosen, charity becomes a necessary evil.
Ceasing, if only for a limited period of time, legitimate business with which your neighbour earns a living and replace it with almsgiving, takes away from him and gives to you. Robbing your neighbour of his dignity in order to complete your own spiritual exercise is decidedly not Lenten.
Disappointingly, the responses to my question were mostly along the lines of offering alternatives and problem-solving. Buy giftcards. Order vegan. Buy and give the food away. And of course there are many possible solutions and I’m using the one most suitable for my situation.
But that was never the point of my question. It wasn’t about problem-solving, but reflecting on my behaviour, and the motivation behind my choices. In this pandemic, in all this suffering, sometimes we get the chance to lay bare whether our practices actually do what they are intended to do.
And if there’s one thing it has brought home to me in this journey towards Lent and Pascha is that charity can be the second-best option. This Lent, more than ever, I want to strive towards the best.