Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Fat Tuesday and Ash Wednesday part A: the background info

Mardi Gras, translated from french means, Fat Tuesday. Referring to the practice of the last night of eating richer, fatty foods before the ritual fasting of the Lenten season, which begins on Ash Wednesday.
In brader terms, Mardi Gras is a celebration of the excesses of our lives. A lot of people take it as something bad or even evil. An excersize in over indulgence and general no-good-ery. A time of great temptation and losing one's inhibitions. Yes.. that happens. but that's not the point.
It has practical roots too.
Lenten season typically bridges the gap between winter and spring. Normally this is a time when crop yields are low. Rewind several hundred years, and you'll see the root vegetables from the fall stock are having to be rationed out, and the spring vegetables are not yet in season, and slaughtering animals is kept to a minimum to account for those that might not make it through winter. Fasting during this season makes perfect sense.
Further, anyone who's ever been on one of those crash cleansing diets is familiar with a "load day" wherein you pack in as many calories, especially fatty foods, as you can. I would imagine many people don't know why that's the first step to a diet, when the point is to get such things OUT of your system. But basically, it's to keep you from starving to death.
Your body needs certain fats to survive, to process certain other nutrients (like vitamin D and calcium) By loading up on them for a day or two before fasting or cleansing, you make sure that you get ample amounts of those fats so that your body can process as much of the other nutrients in your diet as possible for the fasting days. And if you're fasting for a long time, you're going to need those nutrients pretty badly.

However, these days lent is less about fatty foods and more about making a sacrifice of your choice. I don't eat a whole lot of fatty foods anyway, so it wouldn't be hard for me to give up fatty foods for lent, and the meaning would be somewhat lost. The point is to exchange your indulgences for reflection or prayer, in an effort to gain or renew or strengthen a relatioship with God. This is essentially based on the 40 days Jesus spent fasting according to the bible. According to the stories, afterwards he was tempted by the devil and essentially, with God's help, was able to overcome temptations. Extrapolate to yourself and whatever indulgence you allow yourself can be overcome with the help of God.

I'm still not sure what my sacrifice is this year. Last year I took on a house project every day. and that went well, but I was also home every day. This year it would be much more difficult to spend the time to do that.
THAT is where my delimma is. Do I avoid that because it's going to be harder this year? Or is that all the more reason TO do that for lent.. it's supposed to be hard. it's supposed to be something I cannot accomplish on my own without prayer and that would definitely be impossible. But at what point does taking on a sacrifice do more harm than good?
And if i want to do something different for lent, is that just because i want to do something different? or am i just deflecting so i don't have to do what I should be doing. I'm stumped.

Last night we had some friends over for our own little mini version of Mardi Gras. I try to do something Mardi-Gras-esque every year. This year I made jambalaya and red beans and rice. I think it turned out pretty good. We didn't go overboard and it wasn't a super fatty meal as tradition calls for, but it was a way of remembering the day, and that's what mattered to me.

Today is ash wednesday, which marks the beginning of the 40-day liturgical period of prayer and fasting. (yes, it's actually 46 days until easter, but sundays aren't counted because they are "feast" days.)
Ash wednesday is called that because of the practice of putting ashes on the forehead as a reminder and celebration of human mortality, and as a sign of mourning and repentance for our sins, as signified by the excesses of the day before.. although in theory the Mardi Gras celebration should only show as a symbol of the temptation, not as an excuse to participate in them without regard.

Anyway - to put it bluntly, ash wednesday is a day of guilt, a day of sorrow, a day of wearing your misdeeds on your face for all to see. This is a time to recognise and face the reality of our failings, and an excersize in humility by showing those failings, symbolically, to those around us.
For Hubby and I, ash Wednesday always seems to come when we need it. From others, I fully expect to get questions like
1)why would you possibly NEED to share your failures with the world?
or 2)why would you want to be publicly humiliated
and most painfully,
3) what kind of God does that to people?
1) Because we're selfish. We have been very blessed in our lives. We have food on the table, nice clothes, a beautiful home, and more stuff than we know what to do with. We work hard to maintain those things, but sometimes we feel bogged down by the outside world, bombarded with stress and bad news. It's easy to get lost in our own world and forget that there are those in the world who have so much less. Lately, we've experienced a series of crappy events, and it's easy to get stuck in the "why me" mentality, when the reality is that everyone has their difficulties in life, and many people have much more difficult difficulties.

2) We want it because it brings us back to reality. It hurts us, and it is hard, but wearing our failures on our face, in the form of those ashes, means that all day we are reminded of them. Every time we look in the mirror we are re-humbled.. Every time someone asks us about them, we are charged with those deeds. We don't have the opportunity to escape or ignore them like we might do on every other day of the year. Every time we see it on each other's faces we are reminded of our own.

3) He doesn't, we do it to ourselves. He wants us to stop it. As with many Christian holidays, Ash Wednesday does not stand on it's own. It is part of a season and means nothing without the other holidays around it. As we move through the Lenten season, we reflect on our failures and sins, and we are brought through other events to Good Friday, when Jesus died on the cross to save us from the burden of the sins we have carried and anguished over, then Easter, when he rose again and ascended to heaven.
There you find the point.
We have failed, we continue to fail, and we cannot escape it. We deserve karma, instead we will get grace.

As I said earlier, I'm still struggling with finding the right thing to do for Lent. I want it to be something that is difficult, a true sacrifice, but I want it to make a difference in the long run as well. I want it to be something that inspires a long-term change in my life, for the better.
I could give up coffee, but I don't want to. does that mean I should?
I could give up facebook, but I like facebook. does that mean I should?
I want to be healthier, I could take on eating better, or excersizing more.
But are those wants another instance of me being selfish? Maybe.That's why it's so hard. I have to avoid the temptation of choosing something I want for selfish reasons and figure out the right thing to do, but I don't know how much my judgement is clouded by that selfishness.

Anyway - good luck to you and yours during this lenten season.  This was just to share some background info for the main blog post, which i'm working on to follow this one.

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