Go Vegan for Lent!
And the Spirit immediately drove Jesus out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and the wild beasts were his companions, and the angels ministered to him. + Mark 1:12-13
Every time we read this passage of scripture, we're stunned – and delighted! – by the idea of wild beasts befriending Jesus in the wilderness, walking with him in solidarity as he began his ministry in earnest. Not just canines and felines, mind you, but also “living creatures of every kind; cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind” (Genesis 1:24).
Now there’s an image. Jesus walking through the wilderness like St. Francis who would follow him a millennium later, flanked by the wild and marvelous creatures of the earth, cats and cattle, rattle snakes and raccoons.
It’s no wonder, then, that at the end of Mark’s Gospel, the risen Jesus instructs his disciples to “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15). Not just to people – but to the wild beasts, too, the companions with whom Jesus had begun his adventure in the first place.
And in that ancient menagerie of Jesus’ companions, no doubt there were plenty of cows. After all, cows have such big hearts (a couple of us over here at SALT grew up on farms, so we speak from experience). Cows are smart, curious, playful, affectionate, relational – and not least, they are amazing mothers. In fact, when cows are allowed to keep their babies, they’ll nurse them for as long as three years.
Imagine that! Cow mamas pour themselves out in love and care for three long years, the same amount of time Jesus spent walking in public ministry, feeding the vulnerable with bread and wisdom. And what’s more: this deep and intimate bovine bond, if left undisturbed, continues long after the calf is weaned. Mother and child remain connected for life, and they grieve, sometimes for years, when separated by distance or death.
All of this tempts us to wonder whether Jesus might have learned a thing or two from cows. Was it their warm, ruminating companionship, their tenderness that showed Jesus how to pour himself out, how to love the world back to life?
And what if, for the forty days and forty nights of Lent, we were kind enough to return the favor? What if we committed ourselves to ministering to these sweet, marvelous beasts by reducing (or cutting out completely) red meat and dairy products from our diets, as a way of being better companions with these gentle giants?
As you may know, in the industrial farming practices that so often prevail today, cows are kept perpetually pregnant and separated from their young – all in order to provide those gallons of milk we take for granted in our refrigerators. Reducing the amount of red meat and dairy in our diets is one simple but powerful way we can become more conscious of how our eating affects the world around us, and at the same time allow us to participate in the ancient tradition of connecting what we eat with what we believe.
Consider Isaiah’s vision of the Kingdom of God:
The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent – its food shall be dust! They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord. + Isaiah 65:25
If we take this scripture seriously, it becomes clear that the Kingdom of God is for everyone and everything - oxen and cows included! It's nothing less than a call to move toward a more peaceful, vegetarian/vegan way of life, where every creature is proclaimed good; where the Holy Spring calls everything beloved; and, according to Isaiah, where no creature shall hurt, or slaughter, or exploit, or destroy another creature on God’s holy mountain.
Well, that's our prayer during this holy and mysterious Lenten season. As always, let us know what you think – and what you're practicing during these forty days and forty nights!
The SALT Team