Pancakes, Penitence, Paradox.
So, it’s Shrove Tuesday today.
According to Wikipedia:
The expression ‘Shrove Tuesday’ comes from the word shrive, meaning ‘confess’. … Many of these Christians, on Shrove Tuesday, make a special point of self-examination, of considering what wrongs they need to repent, and what amendments of life or areas of spiritual growth they especially need to ask God’s help in dealing with. Being the last day before the penitential season of Lent, related popular practices, such as indulging in food that one sacrifices for the upcoming forty days, are associated with Shrove Tuesday celebrations, before commencing the fasting and religious obligations associated with Lent.
Thus Shrove Tuesday is also known as Pancake Day, when people ‘indulge’ in having pancakes, or supposedly use up all the fat in their larders by making pancakes.
Is it somewhat counterintuitive — if not paradoxical — that one would be planning on abstaining from certain foods or even fasting for Lent, whilst ‘indulging’ themselves with pancakes? To indulge-then-fast, as if Jesus would stock up some body mass before heading into the wilderness fasting?
So, it’s Ash Wednesday tomorrow.
Again, according to Wikipedia:
Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent in the Western Christian calendar, directly following Shrove Tuesday. … According to the canonical gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus spent 40 days fasting in the desert, where he endured temptation by Satan. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of this 40-day liturgical period of prayer and fasting or abstinence. … Ash Wednesday derives its name from the practice of placing ashes on the foreheads of adherents as a celebration and reminder of human mortality, and as a sign of mourning and repentance to God.
In the (Anglican) liturgy for Ash Wednesday, the following passage from Genesis 3:19 is said to congregants as the minister applies ash on their foreheads:
Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
Question/thought (putting basic theology aside for the moment):
Is it somewhat counterintuitive — if not paradoxical — that one would be saying to a clearly living person that they are ‘dust’? Is the notion of ‘dust returning to dust’ not a somewhat meaningless statement?
Perhaps one way to think about the pancakes vs. penitence question (‘paradox’) is to applying the ‘paradox’ of dust/not-dust from Ash Wednesday to Shrove Tuesday: That we are created out of dust — as we confess in the Ash Wednesday liturgy, that is we are not simply dust, we are alive, we have life that is a gift from God. In fact, the very possibility of existence, be it ’as dust’ or ‘out of dust’, is a gift.
I know one is supposed to primarily mourn and repent during the seasons of Lent, but as we reflect on our somewhat paradoxical existence as dust and not-dust throughout Lent, as we reflect on the gift of life and existence, as we abstain or resist desires and temptations, we may also want to be thankful about the very fact that we exist, even just ‘as dust’.