This Wednesday is special. It’s Ash Wednesday, and I love it.
It’s also the first day of Lent. Why is it called Lent? Lent is an old English word meaning ‘lengthen’, and so Lent, observed in spring, is when the days begin to get longer.
It is the time before Easter which is used as a time of fasting, to ‘mirror’ the time of fasting Jesus did in the desert some two thousand years ago.
Have you ‘given up’ anything? Some, people give up a bad habit, some give up something they really desire as an act of surrender to the will, others use the time to ‘add’ something positive to their lifestyle to benefit others or themselves, such as reading a good, appropriate book for the season. Try it! But, make it a spiritually-founded activity.
“Lent is a time to renew wherever we are in that process that I call the divine therapy. It’s a time to look what our instinctual needs are, look at what the dynamics of our unconscious are.” Thomas Keating
So, why is it called Ash Wednesday? This Wednesday, using the ashes, usually from last years palms from Palm Sunday, ashes are put on the forehead as a blessing, in the sign of the cross. Sometimes, as the ashes are put on the forehead, the words, ‘”Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return”, are recited by the one anointing, but not always. But, it is a blessing.
I really like the idea of taking the ashes-blessing ritual being taken outdoors. In the last few years some churches have done just this – going into towns and marketplaces to anoint people, passers-by, even drivers with ashes. ‘Ashes to go’! See photo at the top of the page.
“The first person that I see on Ash Wednesday with a cross on their forehead always scares the living daylights out of me until I remember.” Unknown quote.
And, as an side, all this is preceded by Shrove Tuesday. Why is it called Shrove Tuesday? Shrove Tuesday gets its name from the ritual of ‘shriving’ that Christians used to undergo in the past. In shriving, a person confesses their sins and receives absolution for them.
And so Shrove Tuesday is a time when traditionally one would use up various goods, celebrate before the sombre period of Lent starts, and traditionally it is known as ‘Pancake Day’, here. Why, there were even Pancake races! Pancake races are thought to have begun in AD 1445. A woman had lost track of the time, it is said, on Shrove Tuesday, and was busy cooking pancakes in her kitchen. Suddenly she heard the church bell ringing to call the faithful to church for confession. The woman raced out of her house and ran all the way to church; still holding her frying pan and wearing her apron.
Pancakes here (at least for Shrove Tuesday), being a simple affair of a thin batter of flour and eggs cooked in the pan, over which a little lemon juice and sugar is poured once the pancake is on the plate, and then the whole thing is rolled over. I remember as a child being given several such pancakes, after dinner on Shrove Tuesday as a treat, and loved them. and now many years latter, i still follow that tradition and love the memories it rekindles Try it!
Ofcourse, there is the spiritual side of it.
Ash Wednesday: Time to reflect and share our thanks, for this is the time that we remember the greatest sacrifice.
So, this Shrove Tuesday, celebrate the good things in life, make yourself a pancake or two, or at least reflect upon the good things in life; and then on Wednesday, remember Lent is a time of abstinence, priorities and taking stock of your life and lifestyle, and so you can enter into a 40 day period of deep reflection. Try it!