Posted by: Sue Spencer | February 7, 2008

Ash Wednesday – Lent Begins

Lent begins today, February 6 – almost the earliest in the year Ash Wednesday could fall. (February 5 would be the absolute earliest, for a March 22 Easter.) My UU colleague Tricia Brennan tells us that Lent/Easter won’t occur this early again until the year 2160, and notes that if we google the question “how do you know when Easter is?” we’ll learn everything on the topic (or more) than we’d ever need to know.

It was only Saturday that we celebrated the Feast of the Presentation, commemorating the day that Mary and Joseph brought the infant Jesus to Jerusalem to be consecrated to God (Luke 2:22-39). Now, four days later, we have him in his early thirties, being led (or, as Mark’s gospel puts it, “driven”) into the desert for forty days.

Some of my more alert church school students, quite reasonably, used to question the chronology of the liturgical calendar, which has Jesus born (Dec. 25), then baptized as an adult (early to mid-January), then consecrated as an infant (Feb. 2), then “transfigured” midstream in his ministry (the Sunday before Ash Wednesday), then driven into the desert as a prelude to that ministry (Ash Wednesday itself). But of course literal chronology is not the name of the game here.

Yesterday was Shrove/Super Tuesday, an odd juxtaposition, perhaps. We went out together in the morning to cast our primary ballots, and then came home and directed our attention toward final pre-Lenten preparations. Last night we had our own version of Mardi Gras – an eclectic, fat-laden supper of pancakes, fried potatoes, quiche, cookies, and (in a nod toward something healthy) “killer kale.” Those of us who drink wine had our last glasses until Easter, and the chocolate has been put away till then.

Since we won’t be watching TV or seeing movies (exception: see below), we stayed up late watching two lovely ones last night: “Ratatouille” and “Off the Map.” Our original plan was a double feature of “Off the Map” and “Bagdad Cafe,” but we couldn’t find the latter in our local video store.

Lauds (our morning prayer service) was at the quite civilized hour of nine, followed by Eucharist with the imposition of ashes. We’ll have Vespers with meditation at 5:30. In the house, we’re keeping silence and observing a modified fast: Unbuttered bread and coffee or tea in the morning, brown rice with cheese sauce at 3:30. (I’m told the brown rice is a scaling down from something that had its origins in a simple meal of plain fish, but had grown into an elaborate production of sauced fish and seafood.)

Our Lenten observance was decided at a house meeting by consensus. We will fast from the following: (1) desserts (except simple ones – fruit or pudding – on Sundays), (2) meat on Wednesdays and Fridays (we rarely have meat anyway, so this is somewhat academic), (3) TV and video (except for “edifying” movies during Sunday evening recreation), (4) alcohol, and (5) sweets (including chocolate but not including our own maple syrup). We also decided to observe an “attitude of silence” (work conversation only) except on Sundays. The introverts like this last provision better than the extroverts do.

We also decided to scale down on food shopping (“We will eat from our own stores, purchasing only raw milk and minimal butter.”) and observe portion control (each sister to implement her own version, with single, reasonable servings and no seconds).

So far I’ve told you about the “what” of our Lenten observance; in future posts I promise to say more about the “why” – and specifically why it has become an imporant part of my life.



  1. That sounds like a very strict regime, although I guess it is easier to follow it in community. I’ll repeat last year’s experiment of no sweets, no snacking and see where it takes me.

  2. You’re right, Nia – it is quite strict and being in community does make it easier to follow. Blessings to you in your Lenten practice!

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