Today is Shrove Tuesday, or Mardi Gras. The former name recalls this as a time to be shriven or for confessions to be heard, and penances imposed. The latter name, “fat Tuesday”, points to the need to use up the rich ingredients in the kitchen before the Lenten fast, hence the tradition of eating pancakes. Lent begins tomorrow, Ash Wednesday.
The Book of Common Prayer makes clear that the 40 days of Lent are days of “fasting or abstinence”. The 40 days do not include Sundays, which are always feast days. As a season to “tune up” our spiritual lives, there are many ways to observe this solemn period. Some suggestions include,
- Carving out time for daily prayer, perhaps using one of the forms for the daily office of the Church, such as Common Worship: Daily Prayer. (This is available online here, by the way).
- Switching off or reducing one’s wired connections, disciplining the use of the internet, facebook, emails etc, using the gained time for reading or time with family or friends.
- Eating a vegetarian diet on certain days in Lent (Fridays are traditional). We in the Global North consume 46% of the world's meat, a luxury for most on the planet. Reducing meat consumption is also helpful to the environment as meat production uses more water, produces more methane and has contributed to loss of rain forests to make space to graze cattle. Some bishops of the Church of England are abstaining from eating meat altogether during Lent.
- Living like the poor for some of the 40 days. The abject poor of this world live on less than £1 per day. This may be virtually impossible in Europe, but one might try setting aside some days each week in Lent (perhaps Wednesdays and Fridays) to see how close we can come, then donate the money saved to a charity or the Bishop’s Lent Appeal.