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Mardi Gras – A Reflection

February 25, 2020

It is known as Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday, Pancake Tuesday, or Fat Tuesday. It is the day before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. There are various traditions surrounding this day. Shrove comes from the Latin word shrive. Before the season of penance (Lent) begins, the people were to obtain absolution from their sins via Confession. There was also a tradition of emptying the cupboards (in the days before refrigeration) of all the ingredients (butter, eggs, and fat for example) which would be given up for Lent. Around the world the typical meal was pancakes, thus giving this day another name, Pancake Day. The feasting was a last time of eating a lot before the time of fasting during Lent.

In Mobile, Alabama which is the originator of Mardi Gras in the United States (the tradition was “borrowed” by New Orleans) the season runs from Epiphany through the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. It is a time of parties, masquerade balls, and parades. My first experience with Mardi Gras was in 2010 when Denise took me to a parade. In 2011 we attended a Mardi Gras Ball together while I was still on Active Duty.

Living in New Orleans for a year and Mobile for over thirty years Denise has a lot of memories of Mardi Gras. The vast majority of them are memories of good friends, good food, love, and laughter.

Today’s Mardi Gras was spent getting new tires and lights for my car (it’s an all-day deal when you drive down and up the mountain to the dealership), pulling Denise’s dead car battery, and buying a new one and installing it. We finally made it to our churches Pancake Dinner only to receive a call from the hospital for a chaplain to see a patient in need.

As the patient shared her story of grief and multiple losses, Mardi Gras all of a sudden wasn’t that important. What was important was the opportunity for her to begin processing the losses experienced in the last few years. I guess in a way, she was confessing her fears and doubts. What I was able to offer was a listening ear, compassionate heart, and the assurance that what she was experiencing was not unusual or crazy. It was a normal reaction to a whole lot of trauma and other experiences that bubbles up. I could see her countenance visibly lift and hear the audible change in her voice. The time spent in conversation and listening was a sacred experience for both of us.

In a serendipitous way, this hospital call resonated with some reading I had done earlier in the day while waiting for the car to be finished. In his book Seasons of Celebration: Meditations on the Cycle of Liturgical Feasts, Thomas Merton had this to say about Ash Wednesday. Nevertheless, the liturgy of Ash Wednesday is not focused on the sinfulness of the penitent but on the mercy of God… The God of Ash Wednesday is like a calm sea of mercy. In <God> there is no anger. (p. 96-97)

So in the midst of Mardi Gras, pancakes, and a busy day; God was present. God and God’s peace, mercy, and presence was in that hospital room. My prayers will continue for this patient as she walks this journey called life.

  1. Michael, although you were called away from your Pancake Dinner, which was a shame, it was good to hear of the way God called you instead to serve up His love, mercy and grace and have a wounded soul feast on your reassuring, compassionate words. Bless you, Brother! ❤

    • Thank you, Joy! This is the second call in the last ten days. The hospital doesn’t have an up to date schedule and it appears that I am either at the top of the old list or the first one to answer and be available. Both calls were poignant in their complexity while having grace-filled moments.

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