Tuesday, February 28, 2017

A Spirituality of Mardi Gras

"Today I will Soar"
  - At the Desert Retreat House -

Lots of “Mardi Gras” celebrations are going on today. Traditionally known as “Fat Tuesday” or sometimes “Shrove Tuesday,” this is the day before the season of Lent begins on the Christian calendar.

The custom of engaging in “wild and crazy” parties on the day before Lent goes back as far as the Middle Ages.  Lent was a forty day period of intense fasting from food and drink, a season to refrain from play and pleasure and repent for sin committed during the year. In medieval times, on the day (or days) before Lent,  people would gorge themselves with the richest foods available, often drink to excess and dance in the streets, partying throughout the night – one “last fling" before morning came and the lean and mean season of Lent arrived.  

Actually, the basic idea of "Mardi Gras" hasn’t really changed all that much since medieval times.  For many people who observe Lent, today is a “last-ditch” chance for enjoying life before buckling down for the serious and often gloomy business of spirituality. 

I actually think of “Mardi Gras” in a very different way.

For one thing, I don’t at all believe that a spiritual journey is ever a heavy burden, a path devoid of pleasure or joy of any kind. On the contrary, I think that a spiritual path leads us to richer, fuller, deeper and more joyful lives. As I see it,  “Fat Tuesday” (Mardi Gras) is an occasion for all of us to do a spiritual inventory asking what it is that may be keeping us from the joy of being fully alive. After we do that inventory we are ready to begin the journey of Lent.

It seems to me that whether or not you are Christian or even if you believe in “God,” each and every one of us is on some sort of spiritual journey - we all seek deeper truth, greater wisdom, peace and happiness as we walk the path of our lives. Interestingly enough, when I look at the great wisdom traditions of most world religions, I find that they all offer a very similar piece of advice about the spiritual journey: travel lightly.

In the Christian scriptures, before sending out his disciples on a mission to spread the good news about the Kingdom of God, Jesus told them to take nothing for their journey, no bags filled with their things, only a walking stick and the clothes on their backs. This is a poignant metaphor that helps me understand what the Lenten season that begins tomorrow actually means.

Like many wisdom teachers of the major world religions, Jesus taught that we find deeper peace when we travel lightly through our lives, without the being too attached to all the stuff that weighs us down. When we walk through life with our travel bags filled to the brim with our our possessions, prejudices, addictions and tightly-held ideas, we will always be bogged down on the journey to richer and fuller life.  

The season of Lent that begins tomorrow is not a season for gloom and doom, it is a season for learning how to travel lightly—a season for letting go of all those things that bog us down, attaching us to our suffering in life; and even if you don’t celebrate Lent, this day before Lent begins is a wonderful occasion for all of us to identify and get rid of all the unnecessary stuff that weighs us down along life's way.

Priest and author Richard Rohr makes this wise observation:

In all the global wisdom traditions,
authentic spirituality always involves letting go.
In our consumer society we are told that more is supposed to be better
but once we see what is trapping us and keeping us from freedom
we should see the need to let it go.
True liberation is letting go of our false self, letting go of our cultural biases.
Freedom is letting go of obsessively wanting more and better things,
letting go of our fear of loss and death.
Freedom is letting go of our need to control and manipulate God and others
and letting go of our need to always be right.

Mardi Gras time isn’t a last chance for having fun before beginning the grueling work of spiritual disciplines;  rather today is a day to cut away the chains so that we can embrace newer and fuller life.

A while back I came upon a poem that wonderfully expresses a Mardi Gras spirituality:

Flapping, flapping, not yet ready to fly.
I’m anchored by too many doubts, fears, expectations.
The past is a chain holding me down.
The future is a vision not yet clear.
There is only today.
Today I will soar!

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