Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday, and Our Lenten Disciplines

Today is the day before Ash Wednesday, the day before Lent begins. The holidays of Shrove Tuesday, Carnival, and Mardi Gras have their roots in the self-denial of the Lenten season. My students are always amazed when I tell them about the fasting traditions of Lent and the need to get rid of all the ingredients that you'd be giving up during Lent: alcohol, sugar, eggs, and in some traditions, even dairy foods. They see Mardi Gras and Carnival as convenient reasons to drink and have ill-considered sex. They've never made the connections between these holidays and Lent--and frankly, most of them don't even know what Lent is.

Mardi Gras and Carnival, holidays that come to us out of predominantly Catholic countries, certainly have a more festive air than Shrove Tuesday, which comes to us from some of the more dour traditions of England. The word shrove, which is the past tense of the verb to shrive, which means to seek absolution for sins through confession and penance, is far less festive than the Catholic terms for this day.
Today is a good day to think about our Lenten disciplines.  The other day in the locker room of my little gym, two women talked about what they planned to give up for Lent.  I couldn't resist.  I said, "Or you could add something for Lent, something that would enrich your life."

A different woman chimed in to say, "One year, I decided to give a compliment to one person I didn't know once a day.  It was really neat."

We talked about the other ways to add instead of subtract for Lent.  So many of us want to give up chocolate or alcohol--but why not add an extra serving of veggies each day?  Why not add some daily nourishment for our souls or brains by adding more devotions or more reading?

I've done variations of it all throughout the years.  I'd like to do more with art.  I will always be writing.  I'd like to do more with photos, more with collage, more with fiber art and small sculptures.  My hands want something more tactile.  I have a small sketchbook.  Maybe I'll start carrying it with me.

Of course, all of these Lenten disciplines are ones I try to adopt periodically throughout any given year.  Lately I've wondered if I should be focusing on something a bit more rigorous or something that I wouldn't ordinarily try.  Maybe next year.  The time to choose for this year grows short.

I so often begin Lent with good intentions.  Why is it so hard to follow through with those good intentions?  Why does 6 weeks seem so long?

I will be wrestling with those questions as I write a blog post for the Living Lutheran site, a post which will appear in March.  This year I am feeling blessed to be part of that site.  The site has changed editors, and I feel particularly lucky that the new editor likes me as much as the old editor did.

Ah, gratitude, that most ancient discipline!  If I could choose only one discipline, I'd like to remember to slow down and appreciate more throughout the day.

In this season of impending ash and penitence, I wish us all well as we prepare for Lent, in whatever way makes sense to us.

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