This is the first of my daily Lenten reflections. Since this is Ash Wednesday and the first of them, it’s going to be a little longer than the following days.
The morning is quiet here in Kansas City and even traffic noise is muted. A quiet morning. Yes. That’s how Ash Wednesday should begin (“should” being the operative word) after the revels of Fat Tuesday. The silence reminds me of other Fat Tuesdays and their morphs into Ash Wednesday.
When I lived in New Orleans, the city was crazy for days and days before the beginning of Lent. The parades began at least a week earlier and those watching were mostly locals until the weekend before Fat Tuesday. That’s when the crowds came to town. I worked as the night bartender at a well-known local bar and every night more people filled the stools and tables as the city swayed and danced and crowded itself towards Fat Tuesday. I’m sure you’ve seen photos of New Orleans at Marti Gras so I don’t need to describe more except to say it’s all true. When the cathedral bells chimed midnight, the upper part of the Quarter closed and emptied but then it seemed as if they all landed at Molly’s at the Market on Decauter Street. I know we didn’t close at midnight. We closed at 4 a.m. Every night. Fat Tuesday was no exception.
When I lived in a village, Tepoztlan, south of Mexico City, the pueblo people who lived in the mountain villages began streaming into town over the weekend and began ceremony in the plaza. Dancers and drums. The dancers wore masks of the conquistadors and did what was called “brincon” or The Jump, a constant jumping as they slowly moved around the plaza to the pound of drums. Hours and hours and hours of brincon. I lived two blocks from the plaza. It was noisy. Along with the drums and the jumping and jingling costumes, there were cohetes which are sort of like big bottle rockets only four inches in diameter and about five feet long. They exploded overhead with window-rattling frequency. I lay on the bed as they shattered the night sky. “It will soon be over,” I told myself on Tuesday night, checking the clock. But it wasn’t. It wasn’t over at midnight or 1 a.m. or 2…. the crashes went on until dawn. And THEN it was Ash Wednesday and quiet.
The tradition of Marti Gras (French for “Fat Tuesday”) began out of necessity as a pre-Lenten feast and carnival (from Latin carnelevarium “removal of meat”). Many traditions of revelry were already in place by the 14th Century. It made sense then – no refrigeration meant getting rid (i.e. eating) all the foods forbidden by the church’s lenten laws. These bits of information thanks to the book Catholic Customs and Traditions.
But by now, it’s all given way to a generally loud and boisterous and drink-freely-flowing party day like St. Patrick’s Day or Halloween. Not everyone who celebrates is Roman Catholic. That’s not to sound judgmental. It’s just an “is” and it’s a time that many enjoy. What’s also interesting is that many non-Catholics (as well as Catholics and other sacramental communities) also talk about what they will “give up” for Lent.
What’s the use of stuffing oneself on chocolate all day Tuesday simply because you’re going to “give it up” for six weeks and then go back to eating it once Lent is over (and sometimes before)? What change does that really make in your life?
If you really want to sacrifice something in your life, why not give up envy or spiteful remarks or feelings of guilt for that matter? And why not sacrifice them permanently rather than take them up again?
Okay, so I’m preaching. But what if you really, we really, took this time of Lent as a calling to examine our lives for how we can evolved more deeply as spiritual beings? What if we really did quiet our lives, spend a few minutes in daily reflection, look at our own wounds and their festering presence? What if we made a spiritual change that was lasting? What if we sacrificed our need to be right, our fears of not good enough, our daily struggle to be on top? What if we took one of those (one is enough! there’s always next year) and focused on a daily practice of giving it up?
Would you want to go back to that once Lent is over?
I write these reflections as my own spiritual practice, my own way of remembering, as well as for you. Please join me.