IVP - Strangely Dim - My Chocolat Dilemma

March 2, 2009

My Chocolat Dilemma

We're in the season of Lent. Here's my problem: I found myself this year completely unprepared for it. I'm supposed to give something up, right? Chocolate, coffee, wine, television . . . I've done it all before. Last year, because letting go of just one thing didn't seem "big enough," I gave up the trifecta: coffee, chocolate and television (well, except for the news). But this year I've been somewhat at a loss.

I like Lent. I need its solemnity to bring me back to center, to Christ's suffering on my behalf and to my deep need of his grace. I also like chocolate (shocking, I know). So, of course I love the movie Chocolat, especially at this time of year--because the story takes place during Lent, and chocolate gets a lot of screen time. In between the shots of this luscious, tempting, dark, edible silk is a story of an entire town which, above all else, strives for a life of tranquilité.


Of course, this is a façade. No town is really as tranquil as this one strives to appear, and this little village is ruled more by fear than by anything else. No one steps out of line. Discipline seems to rule. Everyone wears muted colors and black--right down to the women's shoes. Everyone attends church and participates in the Lenten fast. No one appears to have any fun at all, ever. In fact, one sweet old man for many long years has remained silent about his love for a woman in the village. He doesn't want to rock the boat. With perhaps one or two exceptions, no one does.


Just as Lent comes upon the village, the north wind drives a strange woman and her daughter into town, bearing with them strange, atheist ways and gorgeous, sensuous, sinful chocolate. These strangers don't trace the same grain in the wood: the woman wears red shoes; they open a chocolaterie during the Lenten fast--high treason as far as the mayor is concerned. The villagers seem like deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming car, simultaneously startled and paralyzed. They band together out of fear, but, I think, they privately begin to hope a little for some freedom.


Now, there are many things that can be taken away from this movie. But, as the Lenten season moves forward, two observations in particular have impacted my decision about this year's Lenten season.


First, for this village, appearance is everything. The people are compelled to live the way they do more by the steel-toed boot of their mayor than by personal conviction. Unrequited love, abusive relationships, thwarted childhood, failed marriages--all of these things lie beneath the surface, but no one acknowledges them. The town is tranquil on the surface, but no one is allowed to be human! They are miserable, but they won't admit it.


Second, the woman, who seems so free from what she considers useless, needless tradition and restriction, is herself trapped by the expectations placed on her by her deceased mother (whose ashes she carries with her wherever she goes). The nomadic life she shares with her daughter, while exotic from the outside, is an isolated one. She is lonely. She is as afraid to be herself, as bound by tradition, as the people she has come to liberate.


The characters of Chocolat remind me of how easy it is to become entrenched by the familiar, to allow the doing of things to obscure the reasons for doing them. Observing Lent is an important part of the Christian spiritual journey, and giving up things that give us pleasure has value. However, there are things about Lent that frustrate me, and this may be the real reason why "giving something up" can seem so trivial. Each of us could give up everything for the next forty days, but without the pain of real honesty--about our individual and corporate sin, about our flawed, shared humanness--we miss the boat. Fasting can become a façade.


So, this year, Lent is different for me. Rather than trying to just give something up, I've decided to add one or two things: sharing with friends about our Lenten path; reading Scripture more often; confessing more freely; journaling more frequently; forgiving more fully. Lent as a season offers a time in which these things, and more, might perhaps be contemplated and practiced more deliberately and carefully than the rest of the year. Perhaps as we fill our lives up with them, the rest will give way to the humanness that Christ's sacrifice frees us to embrace.


Posted by Christa Countryman at March 2, 2009 2:27 PM Bookmark and Share | TrackBack


Thank you for those beautiful thoughts. I hadn't decided what to do for Lent yet, and this is good food for thought!

Comment by: Sarah at March 2, 2009 4:06 PM

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Behind the Strangeness

Lisa Rieck is a reader and writer who likes to discuss good ideas over hot drinks and gets inspired by the sky. She takes in all kinds of good ideas as a proofreader for InterVarsity Press.

Rebecca Larson is a writer/designer/creative type who has infiltrated IVP's web department, where she writes and edits online content. She enjoys a good pun and loves the smell of freshly printed books.

David A. Zimmerman is an editor for Likewise Books and a columnist for Burnside Writers Collective. He's written three books, most recently The Parable of the Unexpected Guest. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/unexpguest. Find his personal blog at loud-time.com.

Suanne Camfield is a publicist for InterVarsity Press and a freelance writer. She floats ungracefully between work, parenting and writing, and (much to her dismay) finds it impossible to read on a treadmill. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and blogs at The Rough Cut.

Likewise Books from InterVarsity Press explore a thoughtful, active faith lived out in real time in the midst of an emerging culture.

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