Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Fat Tuesday

Happy Shrove Tuesday. Though maybe that’s not such a happy greeting, as "shrove" is a form of "shrive" which refers to obtaining "absolution for one's sins by way of Confession and doing penance." I think that modern folks far prefer to celebrate Mardi Gras or Carnival.

Today is also known as National Pancake Day. Why pancakes? Once upon a time, Catholics were supposed to eschew all rich foods like milk, butter and eggs for all of Lent. Pancakes are an easy and yummy way to use up those ingredients. Incidentally, IHOP is giving away free pancakes today, and requesting donations for the Childrens Miracle Network in return. (That was a completely free plug for them, btw, since I doubt we'll try to make the kiddos wait in line for "free" pancakes at a restaurant tonight. But it’s a decent idea on their part).

Tomorrow, Ash Wednesday, is the first day of Lent. 40 days of prayer. 40 days of no Alleluia in church, no Gloria. Lent is a reminder of the 40 days Jesus spent fasting in the desert, being tempted by Satan. It is the build-up to Easter, which is both the saddest and happiest celebration in the Christian faith. Folks often give up something for Lent. In the Catholic church (and possibly others) we're asked to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and to abstain from meat on Fridays. Once upon a time, Catholics were required to abstain from meat during all of Lent, not just on Fridays.

Fasting these days refers to eating only one normal meal, with possibly two small meals, which together don't add up to the regular meal, and no meat. For me, that means something like a bowl of cereal or oatmeal for breakfast, a peanut butter sandwich for lunch, and then a meatless dinner. Compared to my normal routine of small snacks throughout the day (yogurt, a granola bar, maybe chips or fruit with lunch, a little chocolate sprinkled throughout), it makes for a noticeably hungrier day.

Father Gary, the priest at our church, has said that we shouldn't merely give up some token pleasure for a month, but to find something that is a daily reminder of Lent. I could give up Starbucks, for example, but I would only feel that lack once or twice over the next month and a half. I typically give up chocolate. Yes, I eat at least a little chocolate almost every day, and I miss it sorely when its gone. Peanutbutter cookies and lemon bars make a poor substitute. My husband often gives up shaving. He doesn't like growing a beard (though I don't mind it on him, once it gets past the prickly stage). This year he's muttering about giving up soda (with or without the beard). Some people don't give up anything, but rather add something in, like a daily rosary or prayer time.

Living in a landlocked state (no, the Mississippi does NOT count as a body of water for this argument), seafood is a bit of an expensive treat. So it’s a bit counterintuitive to me that it's ok to eat the most expensive items on the menu during a time of "abstinence." And, I've not decided where the line is drawn on poultry--in our family, we sometimes eat eggs on Lenten Fridays, but not chicken. Does that make sense? Maybe not.

If you managed to follow all of my meandering thoughts and snippets of history, thank you. How do you celebrate/keep Lent? Or do you? Any plans for wild parties on Mardi Gras?

1 comment:

Bethany said...

We used to do 40 days of prayer. Yes, I gave up stuff, usually chocolate as you've mentioned, but I like adding something.

I pray, little snippets here are there, but 40 days of prayer are meant to be more specific, and not focused on wants, needs or worries. More of a praise and thankfulness of God's presence in the world.

If I do anything this year I'll do 40 days of meditation, or maybe 40 days of yoga. This year I'd like to focus on the message of resurrection in Easter. While sacrifice is at the heart of Easter so is the promise of life and God's renewed love for humanity.

I have a hard time with Easter. It's such a complex day with mixed emotions and ideas.