Decided to add the “bloody,” because I have been watching, indeed inhaling, the BBC series, “Sherlock”–Sherlock Holmes updated to the 21st century: just wanted to get your attention [ ].
So yes, today is Shrove Tuesday. My evening minder has promised pancakes and sausages. And why pancakes to mark the day? Because in medieval times, the day before Ash Wednesday was a day when the folk of those times used up all the foods which they were supposed to fast from (mainly eggs and sugar) during the fasting season of Lent, which starts tomorrow, Ash Wednesday. (My evening minder for tomorrow will be very kindly bringing me the ashes.) And the shrove part refers to the practice of being “shriven” in preparation for Lent, i.e., to make one’s confession and be absolved.
Speaking of Lent offers me the opportunity to say how much I admire the way Muslims practice their season of fasting, Ramadan. Christian observance of Lent in the West is a feeble thing by comparison. I am thinking here of Canadian Muslims, of course. As members of a minority community, they are motivated to a disciplined practice of the norms of their religion. Christians, being a majority in Canada, feel no such motivation; and so for most of us, even the church-involved, Lent passes quickly to little effect.
In December, when I thought my time on the planet was very short, I took advantage of a visit from the priest whom I have asked to preside at my obsequies to hear–not my confession, but a recounting of my regrets. Having come to my venerable age, temptations to the more egregious varieties of personal sin as such are few and far between; but I did want to let go of my regrets in a formal, serious way.
So rather than think about personal sin, I am inclined to focus on social sin–structural, corporate, institutional sin. It would be wonderful if our society, the Christians among us at least, could use Lent to deal with the aspects of our society that separate us from our social well-being. (I’m thinking of a theological definition here, i.e., that sin in all its forms is separation–from God, neighbour and self.)
There are many social challenges, of course, and sometimes we can use that recognition to avoid dealing with any of them. Of all of these, the one issue that keeps catching my attention is child poverty. With a child-poverty rate of 18.2% (roughly one out of every five children in the nation–disgraceful), Canada ranks 21st out of 29 OECD countries; we are also 21st in the ranking of children’s overall physical and mental health, in which of course poverty is a determinant.
This Lent, could we combine a concern for child poverty with the fasting that is a major part of the Lenten tradition? Could we fast from watching TV (I’m not talking “Sherlock” here: it’s on Netflix) and use the time to save to study the issue? Dr Google is ready to help us with our research. Might small groups in a congregation or a neighbourhood make child poverty the focus of a Lenten study? I’m all in favour of prayer and bible study, the staples of Lenten study; but to incorporate research and action on child poverty would make concrete what the Bible and prayer point us toward.
And with these thoughts, I wish you, if not a happy Lent, then a challenging, energizing and productive Lent. Your celebration of Easter will be all the better for it.