The city of New Orleans has a singular reputation for laissez les bon temps rouler (“let the good times roll”) no matter what time of year. During Mardi Gras, though, the celebrations take on an over-the-top frenzy that is hard to match.
We lived in New Orleans in the 1970’s and saw this dress-up carnival cum Halloween celebration firsthand. Mardi Gras (literally ‘fat Tuesday’ in French) offers the citizens and umpty zillion of their best friends to dress up, dance and drink, throw candy and don beads. There are parades uptown, downtown, in the suburbs, everywhere.
I still have some beads from one of those parades. I also have snapshots of folks in the crowds during one particularly bawdy celebration. In New Orleans many of the folks live for Mardi Gras, its year round preparation and presence synonymous with their fair, old city. In theory, Mardi Gras is a day to indulge one’s senses, for the next day—Ash Wednesday (February 26th)—is to be marked by ashes and repentance.
Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent, the forty days of prayer and fasting observed by many faith traditions, and derives its name from the placing of repentance ashes on the foreheads of participants. Priests or pastors recite either, “Repent, and believe in the Gospel” or, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
Lenten practices are intended to prepare our hearts to acknowledge the passion and death of Christ on the way to the celebration of Easter. But like the candy and costumes on Mardi Gras, the overwhelm of the world has overshadowed the meaning of Lent.
When I was growing up, Easter Sunday meant See’s candy eggs and Easter baskets and new dresses, complete with hats and gloves. My siblings and I probably went to church for the occasion–obviously, look at these cute photos–but my memories of that holiday have much more to do with fashion, not my faith.
When I became a Christian in the 70’s, the reflective period of Lent was not included in our non-denominational worship. I missed out on those early church practices that take us from the darkness of Good Friday to the light and glory hallelujah of Easter. It is good to remember that joyous Sunday comes at a cost—the death and burial of Jesus—on our behalf. I am still part of an Evangelical faith practice but am grateful for the example of my many friends in other traditions who mark Ash Wednesday with their forehead crosses.
So, how are we Noneatarians to Lent? (And yes, I made that up. Also, I realize Lent is a noun, not a verb. I borrowed that from my friend Seth Haines*.)
It is good for us to sit in the dark sometimes while we contemplate the light of Jesus that has come into the world. It is also good for us to contemplate our own dark places. Where have we let sin creep in? Those shortcuts we use to circumvent God’s work in our lives? I often fall into the trap of meeting my needs my way, attempting to satisfy God-breathed longings with works and ways of my own devising. I’m thankful when the Holy Spirit reminds me of that.
What else can we do?
Sitting in silence while we seek the Holy Spirit’s still, small voice and dedicate ourselves to listen is a first step. Be aware of God showing you what practices you can leave or lay down to turn your focus back to God. Fasting and prayer can also be part of the equation.
But fasting doesn’t have to be from physical food. Consider those soul-filling ‘foods’ that have taken the place of God’s presence. Is there something getting in the way of hearing Him? Fast from the noise of social media—my frequent nemesis.
- Put down your phone and take a walk.
- Go outside, sit on your deck, look out the window.
- Close the computer, turn off the music.
Put down, lay aside, turn off–all are ways to deny our flesh, that Christianese phrase for fasting.
But the beauty of fasting is the welcoming way those spiritual practices create space for God to be the One who feeds and fills us.
That’s how to live in the season of Lent. All of us.
*You can read Seth’s thoughts in their entirety here
this is an edited version of a post from 2018