Today is the day before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. Known in some parts as Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras, it’s a time to celebrate, eat and drink and generally get in as much fun as possible before the austere days of Lent begin. At one time this may have been the case, people enjoying one last day of revelry before days of fasting and prayer, but as we become a more secular society only the names remain and its religious undertones have been lost to the mists of time. In our Anglican, English tradition, it is called Shrove Tuesday. This evening we will have our traditional pancake supper, followed by our annual pancake races. Shrove Tuesday has also begun to lose its meaning, except for having a pancake supper, the reason behind this night has become obscured.
What has been lost is the meaning behind why we do Shrove Tuesday. Sure, in the medieval world it was the opportunity to empty ones cupboard so as to prepare for the fasting of Lent as well as getting rid of old stocks that might go rancid. Yet, the deeper meaning for Shrove Tuesday, was to also prepare oneself for the discipline of Lent. It was the time to be “shriven” of ones sins, a sort of self cleansing of the soul, much like the cleansing of the food stuffs, so that one could start this time with a “clean slate.”
Lent, is more than just a time to give up stuff, it is a time for self reflection, for taking stock of where we have fallen short. The Litany of Penitence in the Ash Wednesday service is our starting point, in it we are reminded of how far we have fallen and it ends on a note of forgiveness and salvation. Ash Wednesday is more than just receiving a mark on the forehead and then going off for the day, we are called to renew our life within the context of the community. Probably why I like our Anglican way, as it holds us accountable through community and not by our individual acts. Also, probably the reason why I still don’t receive the mark of the ashes myself because in that litany and in the prayers, I am reminded of my mortality in a deeply spiritual way. The words seeded on my heart and on my soul where they take root and begin to grow. The mark of ash washes away, the mark of Gods word burns brightly within and is not easily forgotten.
This Lent has taken on new meaning for me. With the accident and the subsequent recovery, which still continues, I have been reminded of my own mortality. Not that it’s something I dwell on but it is a reality that has crept into my being and taken hold. During the past summer, when I was laid up, I had plenty of time to meditate and reflect on my life. I began to write more, I began to reflect and look at the world around me. A walk in the morning, a bike ride in the afternoon, are no longer just simple events. Now I take a bit more time to look at the world, the changing seasons, the flight of geese, the clouds in the sky as they move along. Listening to a conversation, the inflection and tone of the voices, even the language in tongues I don’t understand, watching a person bending under the weight of their own life traveling on the T and the laugh of a child at play, so unaware and innocent.
This Lent is more than just a time to give up some small item, it is a time for me to reorder my own spiritual life, to repent, in other words. Repent as in making that turn toward light and life rather than live within the shadows. What that may look like, well, I can’t say, all of us at one point or another are faced with these decisions and our results can look very different. So on this Shrove Tuesday, this day of pancakes, Mardi Gras and general partying, I begin a journey through the words that I will write. Where it will take me, I cannot say for certain, then again who says that a destination is necessary, for truly each day brings its own new discovery.