The Divine Hours of Lent

February 5, 2008
Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, religiously speaking. Culturally speaking, it’s New Orleans and strings of cheap, glittery beads, and trombones in parade. Over the years, the ‘culturally’ part has managed to trump the ‘religiously’ part for most of us. Mardi Gras is a carnival long severed from its observant roots and re-planted in our very human need to have fun in the dead of winter, to interrupt the cold, to defy the system with a little chutzbah of our own.
But all of that hasn’t worked so well this last couple of years. New Orleans’s song, though re-born, is still more a liet motif of its former glory than it is raucous, unmitigated celebration. I for one mourn that near-silence more completely and often than I would ever have thought possible only two and a half years ago, possibly because I live in the South and am nearer to it.
It’s not like I ever went down to New Orleans on any regular or frequent Lenten basis, though, and it’s certainly not that I am unaware of how many good Christian folks deplore the mayhem that happens there. It’s just that most all of those who were the human crew that used to make the party happen aren’t there anymore, nor are their homes or their communities; and I can’t hear the trombones and laughter of the crowd over the grinding hum of their loss, their grief, their need for home and context.
Sam and I got some Mardi Gras beads the other day….three or four strands of them, in fact, and they are just as garish and tinsely as ever Mardi Gras beads were. But we’re not wearing them ourselves. Instead we’ve hung them around the necks of Miss Emma, Sam’s Bassett, and Miss Lucy, my coon hound. The ladies are delighted with their finery and being without any sense of religion or autobiographical self, they are free to strut…which believe me, they are doing. It’s not so easy for Sam and me.
We won’t be strutting this Mardi Gras, though we send warm greetings to those who can and are. This year we’ve already started the religion part early and without a party. We are already deep into considering the losses in this life; and we’re especially deep into feeling all over again how each human loss, be it of soul or property or spirit or life, diminishes all the rest of us, be we rich or poor or enfranchised or unempowered or Christian or otherwise. So be it. Lent is made of such truths, just as it is made in part so that we can wrestle with them.

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