Sitting on my dinner table are the remnants of last night's Mardi Gras party: a beautiful feathered mask, a tie with sequins hot-glue-gunned all over it, a tiny T-shirt with "Tues" written in glittery writing (yes, I dressed up my chubby little guy as Fat Tuesday).
Now, I admit that, despite my Catholic-Guatemalan roots, I have never really celebrated Mardi Gras, Ash Wednesday, or Lent-- and had never even thought about the connection between them until today.
From my not-so-extensive research (thank you, Google & Wikipedia), I learned that Mardi Gras is the last celebration before the season of Lent, which is the 40 days leading to Easter. Ash Wednesday kicks off this less-than-exciting Holiday Season by wearing ashes on our foreheads to remind us that we will all return to dust. During Lent, the tradition is to give something up (like eating chocolate or kicking puppies) to remind us of the sacrifice that Jesus made for us on the cross.
I think we can see why everyone's favorite Holiday is Christmas, and not Ash Wednesday. Honestly, it's kind of somber, dark & morbid-- and not in a fun Tim Burton kind of way. It had always seemed strange to me to draw a connection between refraining from sweets and martyrdom. I don't say that in a judgmental sort of way, but simply that I personally could never produce much more out of these kinds of activities than an over-spiritualized weight loss plan.
But for some reason, this year I felt a little tugging at my heart to practice Lent, and I decided to listen. My automatic response was to give up sweets, because, well that's what you're supposed to do. But as I started thinking through the heart behind Lent, I thought it might be better to examine the areas of brokenness in my life first, and then come up with an action point, rather than the other way around.
I sat down with my journal & pen early this morning before my little guy woke up, and made an inventory of my innards, and as I processed, I began to see a theme: I want to be well thought of; I want to be liked; I want to be seen as "put together"; I want people to approve of me.
As I made my internal examination, my eyes wandered over to my Mardi Gras attire sitting on the table, and recognized that glittered, feathery mask as more than a costume. Our celebration last night was, in a way, a chance to acknowledge the image we try to portray of ourselves before stripping off the masks and replacing them with the ashes that are underneath. For forty days, we intentionally make choices & sacrifices to remind ourselves of those ashes-- and of the masks-- and our need for healing from our brokenness.
I'm still working out exactly what my Lenten practices will be, but I look forward to the process, and the fact that all over the world, I am joining with others as they do the same during this Un-Holiday Season.