Observation of Lent was not a ritual of my childhood. I was fully aware of it, but not from friends who gave up chocolate or from formal religious instruction. I knew about Lent from Elizabeth, a theosophist cum Unitarian lady my mama drove to church for years. Elizabeth didn't observe Lent either. Elizabeth was a vegetarian since the 1920's and she celebrated anyone or anywhere that she could get vegetarian fare. In 1980's Richmond, Virginia during Lent that meant St. Paul's Lenten lectures and luncheons on cheese souffle day. Elizabeth at some point expressed positive feelings for that cheese souffle and, since it was rare for Elizabeth to voice positive feelings about much of anything, my mama took note.
In honor of Elizabeth, my loving and thoughtful mother would make cheese souffle for special occasions. Mama shudders at those homemade versions of the St. Paul's classic, but I have only the fondest of memories of the warm and gooey comfort food. When I began seminary, I started attending St. Paul's Lenten series myself. I'd like to say I had purely theological and spiritual reasons, but I always found ways to be there on cheese souffle Wednesday. Like Hanukkah and latkes, or Christmas and wassail, in my mind Lent is forever flavored with milk fat.
This year is my eleventh Lent with St. Paul's. Some years I am only able to make two or three lectures. One year I made it to eleven, four of which were on cheese souffle day. Sometimes the St. Paul's sermons are the only ones I hear all year. (Other than the sound of my own voice.)
Every Lent I think about Elizabeth: theosophist, vegetarian, curmudgeon, and one of the Richmonders least likely to be found in St. Paul's any other time of the year. I also salute my mother who gave so much of her time and energy in an effort to make Elizabeth's life more comfortable, with very little thanks. I'm not sure that is the intended message of Lent, but it comes to me year after year as my Lenten tradition. Here's to the power of cheese souffle.