Throughout history, many Christians have observed Lent in a process of remembering the final weeks of Jesus’ life, which includes Ash Wednesday, Holy Week, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. This observance takes shape through prayer, penance, repentance, almsgiving, atonement, and self-denial. Often, Christians give up luxuries and/or add spiritual disciplines in order to draw closer to Jesus and partake in His suffering. At its best, Lent is a season when unhealthy or unnecessary behaviors are shed in exchange for trust and dependency on God. Lent begins today, Feb. 10, and ends on March 26. Perhaps you have already decided to give up a luxury or add a spiritual discipline into your schedule during this time. If not, you should strongly consider giving up eating meat.
Because most Americans are used to eating meat with every meal, it may be difficult to contemplate going 40 days without eating it. However, doing so has the potential to benefit your spiritual life and reduce your involvement in cruelty and environmental destruction. Furthermore, in many traditional observances of Lent believers are encouraged to partake in the luxury they are abstaining from on Sundays. As such, you would still be able to eat meat one day per week.
The first compelling reason to abstain from meat during Lent is the opportunity it provides to enhance your spiritual life. Because God made the world and everything in it, He cares deeply for all of creation, including trees, rivers, dolphins, and pigs. The means by which animals are brutally slaughtered for food undoubtedly breaks God’s heart every day. In order to produce pork, for example, pigs are confined to extremely small gestation crates that subject them to sitting in their own feces and keep them from even turning around. These naturally curious and intelligent animals are impregnated at seven months of age and live out the rest of their lives continually being raped to produce offspring before being slaughtered after only a few years of life. Clearly, this was not God’s vision for the lives of His treasured creation. Abstaining from participation in this cruelty will provide an incredible opportunity for you to assess what it means to consume daily bread and what your place is in God’s holistic vision for creation.
Secondly, giving up meat for Lent will greatly reduce your negative impact on the earth and its valuable, depleting resources. In short, the meat and seafood industries are the largest contributors to climate change, droughts, deforestation, and species extinction. By following a vegetarian diet, one will produce 50 percent less CO2 and use 1/11th the amount of oil, 1/13th the amount of water, and 1/18th the amount of land a meat eater will. Once again, abstaining from meat provides an opportunity to partake in God’s original decree for humans to steward His creation.
Indeed, when God created the earth He filled the sky with extravagant birds, the oceans with beautiful fish and mammals, and the ground with unique and powerful livestock. After doing so, He called it good (Genesis 1:20-25). God proceeded to give humans dominion over the land and the animals, not to abuse them out of selfish desires, but to care for them in an intimate relationship. Perhaps this is why Meister Eckhart, a 14th-century Catholic monk, scholar and mystic, eloquently asked: “Is this not a holy trinity: the firmament [sky], the earth, our bodies?”
Finally, Lent is a time of sacrifice. It is undeniable that giving up meat for the average American is a difficult undertaking. We find comfort in our food, enjoy sharing certain meals with friends, and often find identity in the plate before us at mealtimes. Sacrificing this comfort, enjoyment, and identity is not easy; however, Jesus’ final weeks of life were not easy. Being a part of His body means sharing in His suffering, and as Christians we must not become slaves to comfort. Let us take care of God’s creation, draw closer to His heart, and make real sacrifices for Jesus during this Lenten season!