Wednesday, February 9, 2005

Ash Wednesday and Other Oddities

Having written three postings last night (and consequently having subsisted on less than five hours of sleep afterward), I find I have very little to say tonight.  But you ought to know by now that that hardly ever stops me from saying something anyway. Thus, a few quick notes on my way to an early bed.  At least, that was the plan when I started writing this, about an hour and a half ago.

Blog of the Day1. Among the many links I've added to the sidebar here in recent weeks is one called Blog of the Day.  Honestly, I haven't looked at it much yet, but I like the idea.  Anyway, I submitted Musings from Mâvarin to BotD, and yippee!  It will be featured on 2/28.  I'll remind you all when we get there, but meanwhile, I intend to check out other blogs featured on the site.

2. Today was Ash Wednesday, of course, the first day of Lent.  "Really?  Already?" some of you may be saying.  Mais oui!  The idea of Mardi Gras is to have one good blowout before the fasting and self-denial of Lent.  Due to the complex and rather confusing method used to calculate when Easter is, which has to do with the interplay of the lunar and solar calendars, Easter can be as early as the first day of spring, or as late as April 18th. Ash Wednesday kicks off the "40 days of Lent" that precede Easter, but the numbering of that is odd, too.  Lent is actually about a week longer than that, because the Sundays in that period don't count as part of the 40 days.  Weird, huh?  No wonder Lent has always seemed longer than it ought to be.  Incidentally, as Joel R. mentioned to me many years ago, Easter either coincides with Passover (as well it should historically), or misses it by about a month.  This is because the two religious calendars differ in the way they calculate the moon's contribution to the dating of their respective holidays.  The upshot of all this is that Ash Wednesday takes place very early this year, just about as early as it gets.

 This looks very different after dark, but it's hard to photograph.

Obviously, since it was Ash Wednesday, I spent part of my evening at St. Michael's.  Unfortunately, I didn't bring the camera along. The place has a very different feel to it on Ash Wednesday and other Lenten evenings than it has on Sunday mornings: quieter, more solemn and peaceful and even a little sad.  Part of this is because of the darkness one steps out into afterward, the front walk under the trees strung with lights.  There is no coffee hour or other distraction, no final organ solo to play us out, nothing to do but go home in silence.  I like it.

Lent is an interesting time in other ways.  For one thing, it begins and ends with reminders of death. Lent starts with the imposition of ashes on the forehead in the shape of a cross, a reminder that on our own we are "but dust."  It ends with the crucifixion and Jesus in the tomb, which by the way is another bit of weird dating.  Have you ever wondered how Friday afternoon to Sunday morning counts as three days?  Father Ireland finally explained this to my satisfaction a few years ago. Since first century CE  (AD) didn't have the concept for zero, Friday was the first day, Saturday the second, and Sunday the third day, although the whole period comes to less than 48 hours.

Another interesting thing about the season of Lent is what people do during that time, aside from eat fish on Fridays. People talk about "giving up something for Lent," but that's only part of the story.  Sure, I may avoid hi-carb delights and blogging at work for the next 40-days-excluding-Sundays, but Lent isn't supposed to be about dieting or being a good employee.  It's about repentence and reflection, bringing body and brain under control rather than giving in to them all the time, and dedicating that change in behavior to God as part of an effort to prepare spiritually for Easter.  I can't say I completely understand this, but one of the things it means is that part of Lent can be in what one does, not just in what one avoids.  Last year (it doesn't seem that long ago!) I read my way through the Gospels during Lent. If I were braver and more outgoing than I am, and less broke and busy (that's right; let's pile on the excuses!), I might volunteer at CasaMaria or some other soup kitchen or shelter, or head down to Guatamala with Ila.  But I'm no good with that stuff, as I've mentioned here before, so I guess I'll just give blood again, and donate some more stuff to the Salvation Army or whatever.

I would have put some of this information into holiday trivia, but frankly, I don't quite understand the dating part of it myself, and any other questions I might have asked would have seemed (to me at least) like proselytizing. The second half of this posting probably seems that way anyhow, but I guess I'll just have to live with that. Have I mentioned that I'm very tired?

Please understand that I'm only explaining some things I find interesting, not telling you what to do or believe. You are, of course, welcome to agree with me about anything and everything, particularly religion, but I certainly don't insist upon it.  In fact, if you take all of someone else's opinions as your own, accepting everything uncritically rather than making your own reasoned decisions, then you're a fool.  But none of you folks are like that, are you?  Thought not.

This is not, however, an invitation to argue with me about religion. I really hate that.

Now to update the St. Michael's Seasons page, and then I can finally go to bed.  Good night!



sakishler said...

Fascinating post on a fascinating subject (Lent has always fascinated me, anyway). And, I agree with you! I love the peacefulness and solemnity you describe especially. I know just what you mean.

deabvt said...

Little to say, huh?   LOL

ryanagi said...

I always used to hate Lent...primarily because my mom would always dictate what we were going to give up (she didn't trust our own judgement). Not that I can blame her when my brother would say things like "I want to give up eating liver for Lent.) Uh huh.