Today I came close to my first waver.
As I mentioned, my housemate Tim has joined me in my Lenten abstinence from fermented grape and seed. He spent the day planning a dinner party for five friends and bottles of fine wine were purchased – I raised eyebrows but he assurred me that he would be sticking to the fizzy grape juice.
I had enough problems of my own to worry about in any case, having been struck down with some horrendous disease which has kept me in bed for most of the day.
But I struggled out of the house in the evening to meet a friend called Mark who I’ve known since primary school and who has recently started training for the priesthood at Wescott House. He cooked me supper so that we could catch up, not having seen each other for several years. Straight off he offered me a glass of wine (he’ll make a good priest) but I explained my situation and he joined me in drinking orange juice for the evening (he’ll make a good priest).
On my way home I decided to phone Jamie Hawkey, another trainee priest who has been a mentor to me in my tribulations these last few years, mainly to complain about how horrendously unfair it was that I had given up alcohol only to be rewarded with a stinking cold.
He told me that the medieval rules were very clear that in cases of illness the fast didn’t apply, and ordered me to “stop being a literal protestant and have a double brandy.”
We don’t have any brandy at home. But this evening we had bottles of fine wine, and when I arrived home it was clear that Tim had been enjoying their content. I imperiously told him he’d probably earned himself a good few days in purgatory, and with a great air of superiority I added that if I were to have a glass of wine I would be exempt from purgatory because I was ill and the fast didn’t apply.
Tim thrust a glass of wine into my hand and told me to have some as it would make him feel better about being pissed in spite of his evident lack of illness (though from the sounds of things he’ll have a pretty good excuse to drink tomorrow morning).
I sat considering the glass of wine in front of me for a good ten minutes. I had been told by a trainee priest that I was exempt from the rules of Lent. On the other hand, was I about to use this as frankly an excuse for breaking my Lenten observance? In any case, it was not a double brandy, and although I am told a glass of red wine is good for you I don’t think it has the same cold-curing properties as a double brandy.
But then, was I just being a literal protestant, bound by some superstitious adherence to meaningless rules when I had clearly proved I could go a seven-day period without being tempted to have a single drink?
Or was I using similarly meaningless rules (medieval, apparently) as a get-out clause?
But I felt no compulsion to drink the wine. It was just there, in my hand, and hey, maybe it would do me a bit of good.
And the thought of having a glass of wine was a really nice one.
I had therefore just about decided that it was okay to drink the wine, when I realised that the fact that I wanted to drink it (compulsion or not) was probably a sign that I shouldn’t. Because if, as I said, I’d gone seven days without being tempted to have a drink, what was I proving if I had one the minute I was tempted?
I put the wine down and had a hot lemon and honey instead.