Hyenas Eat Donkeys For Lent

In Ethiopia, hyenas normally just eat whatever they can scavenge from the garbage leftoutside of inhabited areas. But what happens when there are no meat leftovers in the garbage due to the strict Ethiopian Orthodox Lent? Let’s just say you wouldn’t want to be a donkey:

Hyenas will eat just about anything organic. They’ll chow down on mammals, birds, fish, and reptiles. And it doesn’t matter whether those critters are living or dead. Or rotten. Or infected with anthrax. Hyenas are also known to dine on garbage and dung. This doesn’t mean they’re not skilled hunters. In fact, in the Maasai Mara ecosystem in Kenya, they hunt as much as ninety-five percent of their food. But when there are humans around, it is perhaps a better strategy to rely on scavenging.

The neighborhoods around the northern Ethiopian regional capital of Mekelle, is a very poor area. Despite the high levels of poverty and the scarcity of resources, inhabitants of the region adhere strictly to the religious restrictions pertaining to meat eating. “The remains of slaughtered animals and all redundant pack animals are always left at the nearest convenient site, usually simply just outside the people’s compounds,” Yirga writes.

That all changes, though, during the 55 days leading up to Easter, when members of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church give up meat for a holiday known as Abye Tsome or Hudade. Biologist Gidey Yirga and colleagues wondered what effect the reduced supply of meat during Abye Tsome might mean for the hyenas that rely on human table scraps to survive the rest of the year.

They collected 553 samples of hyena scat and analyzed the hairs found inside each sample to determine which animals made up each hyena’s last feast. While the hyenas dined on all manner of beast prior to and after the holiday – sheep, horses, cattle, goats, and more – they mainly fed on donkeys during the fast period itself. Yirga notes that, unlike other livestock, “donkeys are kept outside the compound at night, and weak donkeys are abandoned altogether, which makes them a relatively easy food source.”

Read the whole thing. (Gross nature picture warning.)

“God is dead, and we have killed him”


The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb by Holbein (Click to enlarge)

“Descended into hell”—perhaps no other article of the Creed is as alien to our contemporary mode of thought as this one. And yet, does not this article, which, in the course of the Church year, is liturgically ordered to Holy Saturday and which is especially significant for us today, express in an eminent degree the experience of our century?

On Good Friday, our gaze remains fixed on the Crucified One. But Holy Saturday is the day when God is dead, the day that gives voice to and anticipates the shocking experience of our time: that God seems to be absent, that he is in his grave, that he will not awaken again, not speak again, so that one need no longer dispute his existence, but can simply forget about him.

“God is dead, and we have killed him.” These words of Nietzsche belong linguistically to the tradition of Christian devotion to the Passion; they express the essence of Holy Saturday, the “descended into the kingdom of death”. When I think of this article, my thoughts revert to the account of our Lord asleep during the storm on the Lake of Galilee (Mk 4:35–41), or to his meeting with the disciples on the road to Emmaus (Lk 24:13–35). The troubled disciples speak of the death of their hope. What had taken place was, for them, something similar to the death of God: the source through which God seemed to have spoken to them at last was extinguished. The One sent by God was dead; there remained only a complete void. There was no longer any answer.

But while they spoke thus of the death of their hope and were no longer able to see God, they failed to observe that this very hope stood alive before them. The article about the Lord’s descent into hell reminds us, then, that it is not only God’s speech, but also his silence that belong to Christian revelation. Only when we have experienced him as silence can we hope to hear as well his speech that issues in silence. Can we wonder that the Church, that the life of the individual, leads us again and again to this hour of silence, to this ignored and forgotten article: “descended into hell”?

Pope Benedict XVI, from Veraltetes Glaubensbekenntnis?, in the Logos Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI Collection. Also in C0-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year.

“That is the Good Friday of the twentieth century”


Isenheim Altar--Matthias Grünewald

In the great Passions of Johann Sebastian Bach, which stir our hearts anew each year during Holy Week, the terrible event of Good Friday is steeped in a transfigured and transfiguring beauty. These Passions do not, it is true, speak of the Resurrection—they end with the burial of Jesus—but in their eminent purity they speak to us of the certainty of Easter, of the certainty of that hope that is not extinguished even in the night of death. In recent times, this tranquil confidence of a faith that has no need to speak of the Resurrection because it lives and thinks in terms of it has become sadly unfamiliar to us.

In the Passion of the Polish composer, Krzysztof Penderecki, the holy repose of a community of believers who live always in the certainty of Easter has disappeared. Instead, we hear the agonized cries of the persecuted at Auschwitz; the cynicism and brutal voices of the commandos of this hell and the sycophantic cries of those who hope to curry favor by joining in the violence and so to save themselves from a like terror; the lashes of the anonymous, ever-present power of darkness; the hopeless sighs of the dying.

That is the Good Friday of the twentieth century. The face of mankind is ridiculed, spat upon, lacerated by man himself. From the gas chambers of Auschwitz, from the destroyed villages and brutally beaten children in Vietnam; from the slums of India, Africa, and Latin America; from the concentration camps of the communist world, which Solzhenitsyn has described so movingly and so graphically—from every side the “bleeding Head so wounded, reviled and put to scorn” looks upon us with a realism that makes impossible any aesthetic transfiguration.

If we want to unite the Good Friday of the twentieth century with the Good Friday of Jesus Christ, we must convert the cry of anguish of our century into Jesus’ cry to the Father for help—turn it into a prayer to the God who, despite all appearances, is truly near. We might, of course, carry our thought a bit further here and ask: Can we pray with honest hearts as long as we have done nothing to wipe the blood from those who have been tortured and to dry their tears? Is not Veronica’s gesture the very least we must do before we can even speak of prayer? Can we pray with the lips alone or does not prayer require the participation of the whole person? To raise these questions again each year is the crucial demand that Good Friday places upon us.

Pope Benedict XVI from Dogma und Verkündigung, in the Logos Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI Collection. Also in C0-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year.

“In spite of that, we call this Friday good”

The wounded surgeon plies the steel
That questions the distempered part
Beneath the bleeding hands we feel
The sharp compassion of the healer’s art
Resolving the enigma of the fever chart.

Our only health is the disease
If we obey the dying nurse
Whose constant care is not to please
But to remind of our, and Adam’s curse,
And that, to be restored, our sickness must grow worse.

The whole earth is our hospital
Endowed by the ruined millionaire,
Wherein, if we do well, we shall
Die of the absolute paternal care
That will not leave us, but prevents us everywhere.

The chill ascends from feet to knees,
The fever sings in mental wires.
If to be warmed, then I must freeze
And quake in frigid purgatorial fires
Of which the flame is roses, and the smoke is briars.

The dripping blood our only drink,
The bloody flesh our only food:
In spite of which we like to think
That we are sound, substantial flesh and blood—
Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good.

T.S. Eliot, “East Coker” from Four Quartets


“When the desire of the Lord comes to us, it comes in the night”

Posting will be light throughout the Triduum. Go ahead, turn off your computers. If you had a “bad Lent,” if you didn’t meet the obligations you set for yourself, find some peace by unplugging and spending the next four days walking the final steps with Christ. He never asked much of us, really. All he wanted was for us to stay awake with him in the garden to pray a bit, and we couldn’t even do that.

I’ll leave you with some words from Papa Bene:

The liturgy for Holy Thursday has a uniquely twofold orientation. On the one hand, the Gloria expresses the joy of the redeemed, who on this day celebrate the victory of the love of Jesus Christ, who has given us the gift of all gifts—himself. But at the same time there is the gradually increasing silence, the eventual emptying of the church, the removal of the Blessed Sacrament.

Both orientations correspond to the events of the first Holy Thursday. They are introduced by the words with which, according to Saint Luke, Jesus began the Last Supper: “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” (22:15). This desire of Jesus has permeated his whole life up to this very hour when the desire of the bridegroom at last approaches the hour of its fulfillment, the hour in which the words and the waiting will be succeeded by the full reality of love. And in the background of this human waiting of Jesus that looks forward to this very hour in which he will make the supreme sacrifice and can become ultimately ours, there is present, too, the eternal desire of God, which also awaits this hour, because God longs to give himself.

But what response does this longing on the part of God encounter? How much indifference! How much inner emptiness and disregard! And what about ourselves? Do we really approach this center of the universe with eagerness? Or do we not sometimes flatter ourselves that we are doing God and the Church a favor by spending an hour there with him? Do we not often leave the church with empty hearts and almost as a matter of course, as though we had participated in a rite that had just come to an end? Does it not often happen that, when the desire of the Lord comes to us, it comes in the night?

Pope Benedict XVI, from Ordinariatskorrespondenz, March 23, 1978, in the Logos Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI Collection. Also in C0-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year.


Saturday Song – “O Sacred Head Now Wounded”

In anticipation of Passion Sunday, a cover of “O Sacred Head Now Wounded” by Selah.

O sacred Head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down, now scornfully surrounded with thorns, thine only crown: how pale thou art with anguish, with sore abuse and scorn! How does that visage languish which once was bright as morn!

What thou, my Lord, has suffered was all for sinners’ gain;  mine, mine was the transgression, but thine the deadly pain.  Lo, here I fall, my Savior!  ‘Tis I deserve thy place; look on me with thy favor,  vouchsafe to me thy grace.

What language shall I borrow to thank thee, dearest friend,  for this thy dying sorrow, thy pity without end? O make me thine forever; and should I fainting be, Lord, let me never, never  outlive my love for thee.

Mackerel Snapping in Modern America

Oddly enough, I don't consider bellying up to a table full of this as a "penitential", unless it's being served at Red Lobster.

The Good Deacon finds a story about Lent and fish from my home state of South Jersey. (I’m working hard on the secession efforts from the rest of New Jersey, but neither side wants any town that might include the cast of Jersey Shore.) The premise of the article is that Lenten fish sales are not up as much as they used to be, and this means people are not observing the Lenten fast.

“It’s not like it was in the past. Ash Wednesday years ago was one of the biggest days of the year. As the population gets older and people die off, the new generation isn’t following the rules like they did,” said Al D’Amato, the day manager at the seafood market.

D’Amato recalls customers even shunning some of the chowders because they have bacon in them. He rarely gets those kinds of questions anymore.

The decline of Lent seafood sales also has been noted at Viking Village in Barnegat Light.“I don’t think it’s as big as it used to be. Our sales are better because of Lent, a little bit, but it’s not the high-end stuff,” said Viking Village Manager Ernie Panecek.

One reason is because seafood has become a specialty item these days. For centuries, it was a cheap alternative to beef, pork, chicken and other meats. Buying something that is as expensive as sirloin just doesn’t seem like a sacrifice.

“It’s become more of a specialty item than a Lent item,” Panecek said.

The story is a fairly lazy affair that seemed to involve the reporter talking to a couple of fishmongers and their customers, extrapolating their statements to the entire church, filing his copy, and calling it a day. (Frankly, that’s about as much effort as anyone seems to put into The Press of Atlantic City these days.) The writer tries to make it some kind of general statement on “Catholics not observing the fast,” but he never ventures beyond local anecdotal evidence.

The fishmonger, however, has it right: fish, once a sacrifice and the food of the poor, is now viewed as a luxury item. Fish is expensive. In our household, unless it’s the week’s loss leader at the supermarket, fish is a treat. Tilapia, which I remember being a cheap meal once upon a time, usually costs more than beef. This means our Friday meal is always the same: homemade Pizza Chez Darwin. Since I observe the fast year-round, that doesn’t change anything for me, so I maintain a light fast during the day.

Homemade pizza is shockingly easy to make, it’s cheap (particularly when you find mozzarella on sale and stock up: it freezes just fine), and it’s meatless. We combine it with our Family Movie Night and make an evening of it.

Fish? Who can afford fish any more?

Practicing Self-Control Is Good

From the Department for Spending Lots of Grant Money to Learn the Bloody Obvious comes super-science wisdom!

It turns out the people who have to practice self-control once in a while get really irritable and violent.

However, people who practice self-denial over a steady period of time wind up with a much higher level of self-control.

Says Science Guy:

“I think, for me, the most interesting findings that have come out of this is that if you give aggressive people the opportunity to improve their self-control, they’re less aggressive,” Denson says. It’s not that aggressive people don’t want to control themselves; they just aren’t very good at it. In fact, if you put aggressive people in a brain scanner and monitor their brain activity while insulting them, the parts of the brain involved in self-control are actually more active than in less aggressive people. So it might be possible to teach people who struggle with anger or violence problems to control themselves more easily.

For people who aren’t inclined toward violence, it may also be useful to practice self-control — by trying to improve your posture, for example. In the short term, this can deplete self-control and make it harder to control your impulses. “But if you practice that over the long term, your self-control capacity gets stronger over time,” Denson says. “It’s just like practicing anything, really — it’s hard at first.” But, over time, it can make that annoying colleague easier to deal with.

Wow. Just … wow. Science!: re-learning stuff the Church has taught–and been mocked for–for 2000 years. Who knew that a little bit of self-denial (such as, say, fasting and abstinence) could make you a better person, and actually strengthen you to deal with adversity? Oh, wait, that’s right: every pope, saint, and just plain ole Christian for a couple millennia. If only they’d worn cool little white coats and gone to better schools, maybe the smart set would have paid attention.