It's Fat Tuesday. The height of the Mardi Gras celebration. The pinnacle of Carnaval. The time of year when religious and non-religious types alike trek to places like New Orleans and Rio de Janeiro to whoop it up before the season of Lent begins. Granted, most party-goers could likely give a rip about Lent, but to celebrate the storm before the calm is still a tradition many engage in.
Mardi Gras is literally translated "Fat Tuesday" in French. It is the day before Ash Wednesday, the traditional start date of Lent.
So during this week that marks both the partying of Tuesday followed by Ash Wednesday (which is why Mardi Gras ends abruptly at midnight on Tuesday), people all over the world don beads and masks. And millions of others wake up the next morning making solemn vows to God. Perhaps they decide to fast, skip the wine, the beer, the smokes, the chocolate, or Diet Coke.
Lent itself was a tradition practiced by the early church. In the 600s, under the papacy of Gregory the Great, Lent became a 40-day period of time (not including Sundays) that helped the church prepare for Easter. It was marked by fasting and by denying oneself of pleasures normally engaged in during the other 325 days of the year. In the early tradition, Christians ate only one meal per day, in the evening. For others it was fasting until noon or 3:00 p.m.
Most traditions included some form of fasting from meat. During Lent, the early church skipped meat, fish, and animal products. In other words, they went vegan for 40 days.
But today, it is sort of a self-help gig for many. I confess to using Lent as a way to prepare for swimsuit season. What could it hurt to skip all the sweets in the name of Jesus? Perhaps if I did it for Jesus I would fit into that swimsuit come Memorial Day. And then I remember that Jesus really does not care how I look at my community pool.
So this year, I've got a new idea for Lent. It is based on the history of the church. I'm skipping meat altogether, for all of Lent. For many reasons. Most of which are, of course, rooted in my love of God's Creation. For those of you who are proud to call yourselves carnivores, this is not as hard for me as it might be for you. Normally I chow down on chicken breast twice a week. The rest of the time I skip the meat. But it is still a significant shift in how I think and view my meals.
And since raising beef and other meat places a heavy burden on our ecosystems, and because it is considerably kinder to the planet if I eat grain and vegetable products, I'm going to skip it altogether for this season.
My reason for sharing all this randomness? To ask you to join me. Okay, okay, I know -- not every day if you don't want to. But consider skipping it one day? Two days? One meal per day? Whatever floats your Lenten boat. But since God made this place, it seems wise to take note of that fact and make a commitment for a few weeks to help honor that Creation. And if you are a person of faith, when you have a hankering for something beefy and grilled, think for a moment about the sunset, the trees in your yard, or any other scene that helps you connect to God. It can be more than a freaky, earthy thing. It can be a connection to God this month-plus. It may also help you understand that you can eat and be in this world in a different way. Not too shabby.
So grill up a sirloin, don the beads, and then skip the burger until Easter.
Tracey Bianchi blogs about finding a saner, greener life from the heart of the Chicago suburbs. She wrote Green Mama: The Guilt-Free Guide to Helping You and Your Kids Save the Planet (Zondervan 2009) and blogs at traceybianchi.com.