When I think of Lent, a bubbling brew-pot of images boils in my head. Most of them have to do with Mardi Gras, that tinsel trollop of Catholic feast days. I can recollect more strangeness associated with Lent and Mardi Gras than with any other liturgical season.
We were never actually in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, although Lorraine and I were there once for its aftermath. In the French Quarter, as the forty days progress and the memory of Ash Wednesday fades, things pick up again. There are curious echoes of Carnival on Canal Street: St. Joseph’s Day brings floats and parades and women
flashing bare bosoms for booty. This despite the fact that March 19th always falls during the Great Fast.
Lent is desert time. It’s time for pulling back before the boomerang of Spring-then-Graduation-then-Summer-Vacation. Lent is sand in shoes, the buzzing of blowflies.
We really don’t like Lent.
What we like is Mardi Gras: the big party with no rules. “Play it again,” yells the crowd to the Pink Panther, and he obliges on his saxophone. Masques mutate and transmogrify from before dawn through morning, noon, and night. Alcohol fuels fetishes, faux fowl, fantasy figures, each more desperate than the last to hold onto the Fat of Tuesday. Carpe Diem!
But it escapes, and we’re left with…Lent.
I’ve never seen it, but I’ve heard that just before midnight on Mardi Gras, New Orleans police officers link arms and sweep the streets. A blue-black, billy-clubbed tide floods each alley, each shop doorway. The voodoo nooks close, the bars empty in advance of the surge. Tourists, heads swimming, tired of using door stoops as latrines, stagger or crawl to hotel rooms.
At midnight, the clock strikes. The streets are stripped of all but broken beads, dented dubloons, cracked coolers.
Now the bust begins. The drummer has been dismissed; the piper must be paid.
Some of us take all of this seriously. During Lent, we try to mortify ourselves…to feel what it might be like to make do with a dollop of dearth. Starved body steels will and strengthens soul…so it’s said. “Going short for Lent” meant just the three pints of beer in the morning for C.S. Lewis. Tolkien teased him for such abject asceticism.
So, Ash Wednesday comes. How should we approach it? This is the stopping off point…the way-station on a course from costumes to Calvary. We’ve all a ticket to post at the door, but not all of us want to go in. Better glitter than Golgotha, we figure…and I’m as bad as anyone.
But, I think, this Lent, instead of giving up, maybe I should give in. The one thing we’re supposed to do during the Forty Days is pray. I hate prayer, and as a result, my forty days are often forty thieves…each stealing a single chance for reflection, each day’s pale promise pinched.
So…to be still. To molt the mask, to hush the braying horns, to go with God.
This is what I seek. And what I wish for you on your own journey to Jerusalem.
Nai Eru lye mánata (may God bless you)
Jef Murray is an internationally known Tolkien and fantasy artist/illustrator and counterfeit essayist. His paintings, sketches, and writings sprout sporadically from the leaves of Tolkien and Inklings publications (Amon Hen, Mallorn, Beyond Bree, Silver Leaves, Mythprints) and Catholic journals (The St. Austin Review, Gilbert Magazine, The Georgia Bulletin) worldwide. Visit Jef’s website at www.JefMurray.com.
Follow Jef on Facebook… Like Jef’s Facebook Page.
Please help us in our mission to assist readers to integrate their Catholic faith, family and work. Tell your family and friends about this article using both the Share and Recommend buttons below and via email. We value your comments and encourage you to leave your thoughts below. Thank you! – The Editors