Thursday, 28 February 2019

On Fat Thursday

Polish Faworki or “angel wings”, Wiki Commons

Today is 'Fat Thursday', a traditional Christian feast marking the last Thursday before Lent, a shortened form of the Old English word len(c)ten, meaning "spring season".

Now mostly celebrated in parts of Germany, Spain, Italy, and Eastern Europe, Fat Thursday is dedicated to eating, overindulgence, and celebration. Hoorah! In Poland, where today is known as Tłusty Czwartek, people will have been queuing outside bakeries to gather up traditional Fat Thursday foods such as Faworki or “angel wings” (pastry with sugar), and Pączki (huge doughnuts filled with rose hip jam). Syrian Catholics celebrate today as 'Drunkard's Thursday', and, in many places in Rhineland women stage a 'ritual takeover' of town halls and also cut off men's ties, which are seen as a symbol of status; days of revelry before the deeper, more reflective, days of Lent. The World Turned Upside Down.

And today, and the days that follow up until Shrove Tuesday/Pancake Day, are also an opportunity to joyously use up all the fatty and sugary food that help us to feel cosy and warm in the winter so that we can give ourselves a 'spring clean'. We so often think that we should give up all these foods for New Year when we are still deep in the winter dark but we are setting ourselves up to fail. That isn't what our bodies or spirits want in the winter. This is the time; when the earth is letting go of her winter blanket of fallen leaves, which have rotted back to feed the new, and fresh growth is appearing from the bare ground; all those hot little plants; cleavers, nettle, chickweed, dandelions, jack-by-the-hedge, little spring saints coming to wake us up from sluggish winter sleep. But we need to be stripped back to bare earth too, both physically and metaphorically,and that is Lent ~ Enlentment, Enlivenment, Enlightenment.

It is very easy to be angry with Christianity, so threaded through with 'power over' ways of thinking, with Imperialism, with patriarchy, but then we live in a culture that is addicted to anger. You might say that anger has become as addictive as sugar. I was angry with Christianity for decades, and often I still am. It is so often more Herod than Christ. But there is so much beauty in it too; the absolute determination to love, to demand justice for the poor and oppressed, to be a force for good in a world which contains so much of the opposite; to act justly, walk humbly, love mercy, often at personal cost. And we need much more of that. And, increasingly, Christianity considers 'justice for the poor and oppressed' to include our Mother Earth and non-human beings, having been used for so long to justify the separation of earth and spirit (oh, and God was referred to as 'She' in the sermon we had at church last Sunday, and not for the first time either). There is much mending to be done, and finding beauty on the other side of anger is part of the mending, that we might all honour, love, and respect one another's paths more deeply, and find our own enhanced as a result.

And so we come to Fat Thursday. The pre-Lenten season, which will continue until Ash Wednesday on 6th March, is not a time for self-denial but for considering what makes life sweet, and yet hidden within it is the seed of the coming Easter story; the crucifixion, the empty tomb, and the Resurrection ~ a journey that all life is making now, and we with it. In these days leading up to Lent we might then consider what it is, whether food or some other habit, that keeps us 'locked in a tomb' and prevents us from being truly alive, how we might better live a Risen Life. These are the things that we may choose to change during our Lenten journey to come. How might we prepare for the Returning Light?

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