The Tuesday before Ash Wednesday is most commonly known as Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) and has become synonymous with partying and overindulging for the last time until the 40 days of Lent have been observed.
During my senior year of high school our marching band boarded two buses and rode 30 plus hours to New Orleans, Louisiana. We arrived for the week of Mardi Gras and marched in the parade that wound its way through the French Quarter and ended up with a circle through the Superdome. For a midwestern teenage girl, that was one eye-popping experience. I saw more costumes, beads, feathers and frivolity than I had known existed on the planet. The best part were the amazing drum sections of the local bands. Not only did they drum, they grooved and danced their way through the packed streets. Our band's solemn stoicism was quite a contrast in that environment.
That's a little how I feel today, all these years later, preparing for the start of Lent tomorrow. A little out of place in among the various lenten preparations, yet fascinated by the many ways that people strive to grow in faith and service at this sacred time of the year.
A slightly different take on Fat Tuesday is Shrove Tuesday which is well known in Britain. It became a tradition to make pancakes as a means of using all the eggs, milk, and fatty foods which would be avoided during Lent as a way of joining with Christ in his 40 days fasting prior to the start of his public ministry.
Shriving is defined as confessing, unburdening, or gaining absolution. This tradition goes back over 1,000 years and I particularly like the idea of not only purging my pantry of those items I will avoid for Lent, but better yet, purging my soul. As Catholics we have the option of going to confession but non-Catholics could spend some time in prayer. Both are means of releasing the heavy burdens of the sins we have committed and cleansing our spirits in preparation for welcoming God more fully into our hearts before Easter.
Today I will be making buttermilk pancakes and sharing the idea of shriving with my three sons over breakfast for dinner. Then I plan to take some time to examine my own conscience and to pray about where God would like to lead me through my own wilderness journey of Lent.
Tomorrow's topics: Ash Wednesday and the three pillars of Lent: Fasting, Almsgiving and Prayer.