I know you're all busy grinding your almonds and preparing your stuffing, but spare a few thoughts for the Anglo-Saxon Monk. He still has 7 days of fasting to do. Will he make it?
If you’ve been keeping up with my communications – and pray tell me why you wouldn’t want to hear about this most edifying of subjects – then you will know that I’ve been trying to get back on the pre-Yule-tide-fasting wagon by imagining that I’ve committed sins that require fasting for penance. Nothing too serious, blessed readers; I only need a few days more fasting to make it forty in total.
So I went with gluttony-induced vomiting (7 days fasting) and then stealing carrion (another 7 days fasting), but although I left out imagining the eating part of the latter sin, I finally realised that I was acting contrary to the spirit of fasting. It was no good, I admitted, imagining food-related sins in order to inspire me towards greater efforts at fasting. Counterproductive, you might say.
Now, with my scriftboc (penance book) in hand, and with just a week to go before I can feast, I’ve turned my attention to other minor sins that attract a few days of fasting. So, here are my final choices:
‘A priest who soils himself through impure speech or through the sight of or contemplation of a woman, but who wishes not to sin further, should nevertheless fast for twenty days.’ (Scriftboc, my own translation/ paraphrase.)
This one’s a bit problematic. First, I’m not a priest, but rather a monk, though I’m sure the principle of this canon still holds true for me. Nevertheless, I don’t need twenty days of fasting, just seven.
Perhaps if I were to just go with the impure speech part, and forgo the leering (I hardly see any women anyway, so they’re a bit difficult for me to conjure up), then I only need about a third of the 20 days. That might do.
‘A priest, if he is polluted by the desire of his thoughts, he should fast a week.’ (Scriftboc, my own translation.)
This is more like it. OK, it’s the priest again (far more sinful than monks, I can assure you), but it has the advantage of not needing a woman. Just a bit of desire in my thoughts, that’s all. I can manage that.
Finally, here’s one for five days. Perhaps I could imagine this and let myself off from the last two days of fasting:
‘A little boy, if he is pressed into sex by a bigger boy, five nights (of fasting); if he consents, fifteen nights.’ (Scrifboc, my own translation.)
Well, the least said about that one, the better! But I have to say, what was the author of this penitential thinking? Penance for being a victim? Very unsavoury.
And that’s put me right off my fasting all together. Surely there’s a way out of this agony!
Aha! At last:
‘And he who must fast one week on bread and water, let him sing 300 psalms kneeling or 320 without genuflecting’. (The Old English Introduction, translated by Allen J. Frantzen.)
Is this an alternative? It must be. And I can do that, I can do that! I don’t even mind the genuflecting.
Ah, but even better:
‘And he who neither knows the psalms nor is able to fast, every day let him give one penny or its equivalent to needy people.’ (The Old English Introduction, translated by Allen J. Frantzen.)
This one has to be for me. Really, it does. My brain has become so addled by the lack of food, that I think I may have forgotten half my psalter, and I really am not capable of forgoing food any longer.
So I must break into my purse (never mind that I shouldn’t have one: vow of poverty and all that) and deliver my seven pennies to the needy. There must be some takers!
Go on ... you know you want to have your say, so please leave a comment below.