Say the words Mardi Gras, and images of Rio or New Orleans may spring to mind. The phrase, which literally means Fat Tuesday, really belonged to Christians. Not any more. These days it’s usually synonymous with wild partying and immorality. In days gone by it simply prepared people to start Lent. They’d eat up big — Fat Tuesday — before they started their spiritual fast the next day.
Today is Fat Tuesday, which means that tomorrow we start Lent.
If you’re new to Lent, you might like a little context. The church has practiced this tradition for 1,700 years. The word Lent simply means “Spring” (coinciding with the season of the year), and it involves 40 days of fasting, culminating with Easter Sunday; the resurrection of Christ.
In the Western Church, Lent actually lasts for 46 days (not 40) because we break the fast every Sunday — phew, that’s helpful! — since every Sunday is a Resurrection Day.
Why 40 days? To imitate the season of testing that Jesus endured in the wilderness. The number 40 has significance in the Bible. The Flood involved rain for 40 days and 40 nights; Israel wandered the wilderness for 40 years; and so forth. It’s a season of meaningful testing, that can lead to greater spiritual sensitivity, and more awareness of the Presence of God.
We fast to create regular triggers for prayer. Each time I ponder what I’ve given up for Lent it calls me to pray. But the fast also sharpens my self-awareness, and trains me in just a little more self-discipline. Furthermore, the fast creates space for God to speak, and me to hear. Don’t do all the talking!
Are you ready? Have you decided what you’ll fast from? We can always switch it up along the way.
This Lent, I have identified 80 questions that Jesus asks in the Gospels. He used questions surprisingly often to teach His disciples and other hearers. I have placed those 80 questions in a couple of cups and intend drawing one each day, trusting that the Lord will guide me to the question He wants me (and us) to ponder for that day.
It’s unlike me. I usually map out where I’m going. I like to structure times like this. But not this year.
So I invite you to share this experience with me. If the questions strike a chord with you (in ways different than they strike me) feel free to share with this Lenten community by sending a reply. I’d be glad to hear your stories. A shared journey is always the richest.
Meanwhile, enjoy this Fat Tuesday as believers have done so for centuries; with anticipation of your own spiritual growth in this next six weeks or so.
Because of Grace.