Today is Shrove Tuesday (aka Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras) and tomorrow is Ash Wednesday (aka the beginning of Lent or the six weeks before Easter). The majority of the world’s population doesn’t really care about the theological significance of these two days. Personally, I don’t blame them. But then again, my faith has never been built on rules, obligation, or dogma.
Luckily for you, I’m not even going to venture into anything theological about these two days. What I’m thinking about has more to do with their contrast. Fat Tuesday is all about excess and festivities. Ash Wednesday is all about mourning and solemnity. Fat Tuesday is eating rich foods and drinking. Ash Wednesday is fasting, or giving up certain foods and reflecting on death. These two days are about as diametrically opposed as can be.
Here’s the kicker: by creating these two extremes, the focus is diverted from what was originally intended. The religious authorities created the season of Lent as a time to reflect and prepare for the celebration of Easter. The forty days are to symbolize the forty days of deprivation and self-discipline Jesus endured in the wilderness. Of course, human nature doesn’t like deprivation, so they come up with a reason to make it more palatable. The thinking goes something like this: IF I have to give up my festivities and rich foods, then I’m going to make sure I make up for it before hand!
Personally, I don’t think deprivation is a very good form of motivation either. Being told I need to deprive myself of sugar or butter or wine is not going to channel my intentions toward being a better person (some of the things the masses were restricted from consuming during Lent in eras gone by. Now individuals may select what they chose to give up). I also think that going through the motions of deprivation and self-discipline do not gain God’s approval nor does it encourage us in our faith development. Creating these impossible situations is actually more destructive than constructive.
My suggestions for Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday? Enjoy each day for the gift it is. You determine its meaning and purpose for you.