Fat Tuesday is over. The season of Lent begins today—forty days of preparation to celebrate the Easter resurrection of Christ.
Forty days of saying “No” to the self and what it wants.
I am not good at this.
Growing up Lutheran, we were challenged to “Give up something for Lent.” I tried to give up solving equations, practicing the piano, drying the dishes.
I was urged to be sober. Sorry. Reflective. “Think about Jesus sleeping on stones, fasting in the wilderness, facing off with the devil,” one Sunday School teacher suggested.
Pretty big assignment for a kid.
In adulthood I learned about the Mardi Gras tradition known as Fat Tuesday: a day for parades, costumes, masquerades plus a city-wide, all-you-can-eat bash before cinching the belt, on Wednesday, for leaner meals during Lent.
Because the church teaches that curtailing our appetites frees up time for soul-searching and repentance, Fat Tuesday offers the last hurrah for a good nosh.
Here’s a quick global survey: on Fat Tuesday . . .
Spaniards dine on omelets with juicy pork
Lithuanians feast on doughnuts
Icelanders savor salted meats and peas
Swedes enjoy cream-filled pastries
Brits, Australians, Canadians and the Irish relish gourmet pancakes
Some Christians empty their homes of butter, lard, and sugar. Which would mean discarding that leftover pie and those Maui Sweet Onion Chips. (We finished ours last night, so as not to waste any.)
And now, the Fat Tuesday aftermath: the countdown to Easter begins with Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent.
I could swear off coffee, or chocolate. Movies. Books. Or I could fast. Cut back on social media. One year I gave up decorating magazines.
If I’m honest, saying “No” to things I enjoy makes me grumpy. Or smug.
I type this and feel selfish and sorry (and not only for those fatty chips I consumed). Truth is, I want what I want when I want it.
The word humility comes from humus, the Latin word for earth. Ash Wednesday is more than a ceremonial smudge on the skin. It reminds me that what is fallen, and weak, can rise again.
And therein I find peace.
Today many pastors will thumb a sooty cross on the foreheads of those who come forward and kneel. This mark identifies believers who wish to make an intentional, inward journey, who wish to repent of self-reliance and self-serving actions, who then gratefully receive, afresh, God’s grace and forgiveness.
But to re-imagine the Cross, the scourging of Christ, the scalp-searing crown of thorns, feels overwhelming.
My vision blurs. I don’t want to picture the weeping, the hill like a skull, the string of betrayals.
I’m tired of death. An urn still holds the unscattered cremains of my mother, my brother. More friends have recently died. Couldn’t I flee sorrow this year? Dodge remembrance, sidestep the earthy symbol of love?
This year I may skip the ritual cross on my brow. I will try to reabsorb the thought in this song I wrote decades ago, try to take in the prayer at its heart: content to be dark soil where something new and fresh can grow.
“Shalom,” Bill and Laurie Klein, arranged and produced by Chris Lobdell