Happy Mardi Gras, everyone! I hope you are enjoying this last gasp of hedonism, because tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, the first of 46 days of Lent. Tomorrow the parish priest will put sacramental ash on your forehead in the form of the cross, and speak those words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Then begins your period of repenting — literally, in dust and ashes — before the great Easter morn arrives. Prepare yourselves, pilgrims!
What — Mormons don’t do this? Well, maybe we should.
Other, smarter Mormons have bemoaned the absence of an LDS liturgical calendar (no, General Conference dates DO NOT COUNT), and still others have suggested possibly starting individual traditions in our homes of seasonal times of repentance and remembrance. I’ve also read arguments suggesting that our weekly sacrament meetings — and monthly fasts — serve this same purpose. But I admit that I am still drawn to the Catholic practice of Lent, to a long period, forever linked to the end of Winter and the beginning of Spring. I love the idea of a time of contrition and sacrifice, with the Lenten semi-fast being a fine way of performing a self-evaluation and engaging in some self-denial as part of preparing ourselves for the day of redemption.
The three practices of Lent – prayer, fasting and charity (almsgiving) – are wonderful practices to be observed year-round, to be sure, but associating them specifically with Easter and having them come around in their season has a naturality to it that I deeply respect. Having studied Medievalism a wee bit in college, I find the parallels between past Lenten practices and other traditions (say, Ramadan) striking and perhaps worthy of consideration; annualized periods of daytime fasting and prayer as a precursor to a spiritual climax event seem to be a common link between many religions…. why not ours? I must admit, deep down, that I am also attracted to Lenten festivals (not Mardi Gras, thanks, nor Carnaval), and the thought of torching some roadside Funken gives me a little thrill. Why is this so?
This might be nothing more than envy of the rich history of most other world religions compared to our own, and envy of liturgy and ritual that is more tied to the natural world. But maybe there’s more to it than that, and we might consider a form of worship that is not so completely detached from the seasons. Maybe by considering traditional Lent we might appreciate our own Easter a little more and come more quickly to be reconciled to Christ.
For your consideration tomorrow, the concluding stanzas from T.S. Eliot’s masterpiece “Ash Wednesday”:
Although I do not hope to turn again
Although I do not hope
Although I do not hope to turn
Wavering between the profit and the loss
In this brief transit where the dreams cross
The dreamcrossed twilight between birth and dying
(Bless me father) though I do not wish to wish these things
From the wide window towards the granite shore
The white sails still fly seaward, seaward flying
And the lost heart stiffens and rejoices
In the lost lilac and the lost sea voices
And the weak spirit quickens to rebel
For the bent golden-rod and the lost sea smell
Quickens to recover
The cry of quail and the whirling plover
And the blind eye creates
The empty forms between the ivory gates
And smell renews the salt savour of the sandy earth
This is the time of tension between dying and birth
The place of solitude where three dreams cross
Between blue rocks
But when the voices shaken from the yew-tree drift away
Let the other yew be shaken and reply.
Blessèd sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit of the
Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated
And let my cry come unto Thee.