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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Lenten Service

It seems things have not been cooperating. But I will not let this defeat me.

My writing group did indeed meet last Thursday... but not to read. It seems the bookstore we have been frequenting for the past 17 years is closing due to financial difficulties. This is a real shame as I had just discovered the place and was looking forward to spending much time there. It was also so close to work. So last week was just that... our last week. At least, at that location. No one read or critiqued, instead they collaborated over a new spot. They have chosen as a temporary location a coffee shop nearby.

So no one read, and it wasn't much time for me to finish my paper (excuse, I know...). I wish to finish it by the next meeting.

Unfortunately, the next meeting is during Shrove Tuesday, what some of you know as "Mardi Gras." Mardi Gras is simply a celebration in which we use up all the goods, fun, and food (fattening foods, thus the name Fat Tuesday and its connection to pancake suppers) that we will be missing for the next 40 days of Lent. In the Episcopal Church, little celebration is had other than a pancake supper and some fellowship. Apparently some people celebrate it for 2 weeks or even since January 6th (Epiphany), ending it on Shrove Tuesday. In America it seems to have lost its meaning completely. Most Americans, even die-hard Christians (and Catholics, who really should know better) have never even HEARD of Lent, or may dimly be aware of it as Ash Wednesday (the day following Shrove Tuesday) is usually heralded by a few people with dark ashen crosses on their foreheads.

Allow me to elucidate. Easter is celebrated every year on the Sunday following the first full moon after the Spring Equinox. A few years ago, this was very, very early (I believe March 23 or 24), and it is pretty early this year as well, but it also means that Easter doesn't fall on a specific day. The week leading up to Easter is Holy Week, starting with Palm Sunday (the day Jesus was brought into Jerusalem on a donkey, named for the leaves laid on his path). Next is Fig Monday (named for the withering of a fig tree that bore no fruit), Holy Tuesday, Spy Wednesday (when Judas conspired with and was paid by the Pharisees to kill Jesus), Maundy Thursday (celebrated by a washing of the feet service; I have no clue where the name came from), Good Friday (when Jesus died on the cross), and finally Holy Saturday. The 40 days prior to Easter comprise a season of the Church called "Lent" which is a time of reflection, fasting, and sacrifice. Traditionally, Christians do not eat meat on Fridays (which is, in my opinion, not even CLOSE to a sacrifice). Often they give something up, like chocolate or spending money on shoes. It is also permitted to do a service in lieu of giving something up. Last year I followed the guidelines of Ramadan by not eating from sun-up to sun-down. This year I think a service to others is in order. Giving up chocolate or TV never seemed like it sparked a true devotion to God, no self-reflection. Sundays are an exception in Lent, as the church recognizes all Sundays as a celebration of Christ (something most people don't realize or forget).

Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, which is when good Anglican, Episcopal, and Catholic boys and girls go to service to receive a cross on the forehead made form the ashes of last year's palm branches. These ashes symbolize that we are dust and to dust we shall return. This mentality may also have inspired some of the more macabre celebrations on Carnival (Mardi Gras) such as skeletons. The time between Ash Wednesday and January 6th is called Epiphany, named after the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6 which is 13 days after Christmas (YES there are indeed 12 days in the Christmas season). Epiphany marks, supposedly, the day the Wise Men arrived in Bethlehem. Either that or it marks Jesus revealing himself as both God and man. I was always confused on that point. Gospel readings for that day tend to switch between the account of the Magi, the Baptism, and the Wedding at Canae.

I hope you all enjoyed your little lesson. What does all this have to do with me writing?

Nothing. Not really. In some small sense it was an attempt for me to actually write something longer than a paragraph. It may not be a well-written, well-composed, or well-organized creation, but it is there nonetheless. It ALSO means that I may be at a pancake supper during our meeting time. So I will write the rest of this short story as if I was going to read it to people, then I will move on to bigger and better things, maybe use it as a backup or just try to get it published. We will see.

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