Today is Fat Tuesday. It’s the last night before the season of Lent and the time when debauchery is to be found in the middle of the street in New Orleans for Mardi Gras. Even the church recognizes this night and mine “celebrates” with a pancake supper and a ceremonial burning of the ashes to be used the following day for anointing those of us sinners who are willing to admit our sin and walk around with the proof all day. At least they don’t make us wear sack cloth…
Back to the pancakes though. I thought about this the other day and it struck me that pancakes seemed an odd choice for a last supper before the Lenten season of fasting and self denial/discipline. I mean, pancakes are what you eat when there is nothing else left to eat, aren’t they? When you are out of ideas and you’re like oh hey, there’s some Bisquick, let’s make pancakes for dinner! Except that I hate pancakes. I’ve rarely met one that was palatable. I don’t like cake either while we’re at it so you can imagine I have very little practice at making these things. Still, wouldn’t you want a rich feast of fat and meats dripping with gravy and heavily sauced vegetables and perhaps a slice or half of pie? But pancakes? That’s just depressing.
So I asked my friend Anne, a wonderfully devout woman, ordained in fact and knowledgeable of all things “church” and liturgy and such that make my eyes kind of glaze over, “Why pancakes?” I was thus informed that WAY BACK WHEN people would need to use up their butter and sugar as they would be abstaining form it for the Lenten season and without a freezer and likely without will (like the rest of us) they would use it up to avoid temptation. Apparently pancakes are a good way to use up sugar and butter. I kind of think a good sugar cookie would be much more appropriate here.
Flabbergasted at this apparent lack of taste, I looked it up on that ever reliable source of all things religious, Wikipedia. Here is an excerpt:
“Pancakes are associated with the day preceding Lent because they were a way to use up rich foods such as eggs, milk, and sugar, before the fasting season of the 40 days of Lent. The liturgical fasting emphasized eating plainer food and refraining from food that would give pleasure: in many cultures, this means no meat, dairy products, or eggs..”
Other countries have varied traditions such as pea soup and salted meats. I think Lithuania is the closest to the mark: they serve donuts. Donuts > Pancakes.
I have decided however, to come down with a dastardly cold and will be keeping my germs to myself tonight. I’ll be having pork and vegetables, probably in a curry sauce. If I can find a gluten free cookie hiding in my house, I may eat that too. Maybe next year I can convince them to serve cookie pizza. THAT would be a much better use of any extra sugar within a 10 mile radius. I might even ignore a cold for it. (Provided it was gluten free of course…)
So how does this apply to minimalism or simplicity or anything similar? Well, the idea of abstaining as an outright discipline rather than as an esthetic to be obtained through careful consideration of what is actually useful or beautiful or whatever, is a religious experience. One meant to make us reflect on our inadequacy and utter desperate need for Christ our Savior because we inevitably fail at our discipline and feel like pathetic worms. Whereas, abstinence as an esthetic to make our lives easier, more beautiful, more “meaningful” and allow us to focus on all of the things that make us “happy” and “fulfilled” has nothing to do with worship and is in fact, quite narcissistic and selfish in many regards. It makes us feel good about ourselves and what “WE/I” did. Some people treat it as a religion but it has no absolute moral basis. I am no better than another because I live without. Nor is someone better because he has. It’s easy to fall into that however. And I stand guilty as charged. (And more worm like)
So go ahead. Make a Lenten commitment. Or don’t. Get rid of stuff or don’t. Eat fat and sugar to your hearts content or give it all up for vegan desolation. It doesn’t make you “good” or “bad.” I will personally be forcing myself to learn to make crepes for Lent and I will be abstaining from wine (what an awful combination). Just don’t make me eat pancakes.