It's Fat Tuesday. Party-til'-you-puke-Tuesday, if you will. Party like there's no tomorrow, because, after all, tomorrow is going to be lean. Really lean. Like 40 days of lean, come to think of it. Down in Carnival country (where I've never been), they've been seizing the day like it's nobody's business, dancing all through the streets in costumes so outlandish you couldn't recognize your own reflection in the mirror should you happen upon it. The scarier the better, oddly.
Not all of this makes much sense to me. Very little of it has much to do with the Gospel as I've come to understand it, but there's a very long tradition about eating and drinking to fatten up before one begins to fast, as if one could actually store the food and drink and party of it all through the leanness and wilderness to come. But let's not be confused. Though our bodies can readily store fat, our souls do so less readily. In a way, therefore, this day--this Carpe Deum day--is merely a one 'last round' of excess before the austerity of the next forty days. And we humans are always looking for another last round, so to speak, of that excess. Aren't we?
I know I am. As usual I am pointing no fingers I don't also point at myself. I've often spoken of my feelings about the practice of giving up things for Lent. I've felt a strange disconnect with the notion of practicing an abstinence--and therefore, practicing His absence--during the season of the Church year when we are dwelling in Jesus' earthly ministry. His walking dusty roads, His eating food with grubby hands and sleeping on dirt floors ministry. That is His Presence among us as a man. This seems an odd thing. Raise your hand if you've heard me say this before. OK, you can lower them. I see you.
I'll probably always feel, as He said to Judas about Mary's act of worship with the vial of perfume, "The poor you will always have among you; you will NOT always have me." It seems to me that it's in this spirit that we should be living the days and weeks approaching the crucifixion. With a spirit of intentionality in our devotional lives. This next forty days--these forty days the church calls Lent--should be about worship.
But sometimes--often or even usually, I suppose--intentional worship begins with the laying down of something. It starts with getting out of the way of ourselves. This is perhaps where the practices of Lent began. This is the act of repentance on a grand scale. A turning from the things that make us concentrate on us and our selfishness and turn back to God as the center of our lives. These 'things' can be food, drink, words, or practices. It's what is at the core of them that counts. Giving up one's favorite drink, for example (like coffee or caffeine in general), with gritted teeth and clenched fists is no act of worship. Is not the sacrifice of praise that will lead us to Him and reveal Him to us. It is done with our will and ours only. And comes up empty. I've seen such Lenten acts done. I've done them myself. By about the second Sunday, I'm looking for loopholes, making excuses, and finally just plain giving up. And it all signifies nothing. Falls so short, God isn't even in the same hemisphere as such acts, let alone the same zip code.
It's only in coming to Him newly each day, knowing that this day, this choice, this act, this surrender is only so that HE will be glorified in my life, my action and inaction, that Lent makes any sense. It's only as seeing each day as our cross, one given to us by Him--"Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me." Luke 9: 23 Daily. Every single day.
So it's denial and the cross on a daily basis. And this season is as good a time as any to really learn that. But it's also--first, last and always, worship. Paul reminds us of that. And don't EVER forget it. Don't let it drift over into rote practice or willful resolution--you might feel the loss for yourself but you won't feel the loss HE felt on your/my/our behalf. THE Cross.
"Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God--this is true worship." Romans 12: 1