According to my Google Calendar, today is the day I rejoice in love handles and greasy food and too-tight-jeans. Today, February 12th, is an all day Fat Celebration.
Oh wait, that can’t be right. Before Google so rudely auto-corrected for redundancy, the calendar item I input should have read Fat Tuesday Celebration.
That’s it. Today is Fat Tuesday. Or Shrove Tuesday. Or Mardi Gras. Today is the last day before the commencement of Lent.
Tomorrow, millions of Christians around the world will attend a mass or church service highlighting humankind’s mortality and sinfulness. A small cross will be smudged with ash across their foreheads as a visible symbol of mortality and repentance, a sign of mourning for our sins, both individually and collectively. And for the next 40-ish days, many Christians will observe Lent by committing to a discipline of self-denial, such as fasting.
Tomorrow, many would say, begins the real soul work. The humility and the bowing down. The confession and the contrition. The 40 days of preparation fashioned after Jesus’ 40 days of temptation in the desert that will lead us to the richness of the Last Supper, the agony of Judas’ betrayal and Jesus’ crucifixion, and then into the glory of His resurrection.
But that all comes later. Today, we party. We indulge. In Spanish, they say, “Aprovechamos” or we take advantage of the freedom before the fast.
And while I don’t condone drunken carousing or irresponsible indulging (or certainly not breast baring for beads), I do think there is soul work in celebration. In gratitude. In joy. In aprovecharing the present moment.
Here in Antigua, Guatemala, kids engage in a few Carnival traditions of their own, which I’m excited to witness. One of which is the making and breaking of “cascarones,” or egg shells painted and filled with bright confetti (called pica pica). I’ve seen the bright bags of confetti all around the market, and apparently today at school they get to dress up in costume and break the shells they’ve made over their classmates’ heads in one wild fiesta before the fast.
And of course it wouldn’t be T.S. Tuesday or the approach of Ash Wednesday without a reference to T.S. Eliot’s poem, Ash Wednesday.
As I think of today’s flash of vibrant colors before tomorrow’s dust and ash, I’m reminded of Eliot’s prayer:
“Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still”
I’m reminded of my own prayer to care and not to care.
Perhaps that’s what Lent does–the purposeful giving up of worldly comforts and pleasures teaches us to live intentionally. Forces us to examine what we really care about. Challenges us to be present in the moment, regardless of external circumstances.
Despite the name of the poem, I’ve never really connected these words of Eliot’s with the observation of Lent. Until now. A big, fat light bulb sparks: the caring about the things that matter and the releasing of the trivial, the tiring, the tearing down. The act of sitting still. These all begin with repentance. With confession and humility. With the giving up of pride. With the acceptance of our own faults and blames.
The teaching doesn’t have to be some abstract spiritual concept, but could start with the actual act of confession, of bowing low, of relinquishing self-consciousness for long enough to walk around with ash smudged across your forehead.
That could be just the catalyst needed to help us realign our priorities. To teach us to care and not to care. To teach us to sit still in the presence of an awesome God.
Now for me, that is one fat revelation.
So how about you… Do you have a Fat (Tuesday) Celebration (or revelation) of your own? Are you going to an Ash Wednesday service? Will you observe Lent? What are some practices you use to live more intentionally, to learn to care and not to care?