What early Christian ascetics teach us about the strange hope of Lent. Once upon a time in Egypt, likely sometime during the fourth or fifth century, some Christian monks were eating dates together. One of the brothers was ill and had a coughing fit that brought up phlegm. Some of it accidentally fell on another brother. The unlucky recipient’s initial impulse was to cry out in indignation, “Stop! Don’t spit on me!” The Sayings of the Desert Fathers tells us what happened next: “To tame himself and restrain his own angry thought, he picked up what had been spat and…