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A recipe: tasty Fat Tuesday happy mixed with Ash in the the mouth Wednesday somber

In the liturgical Christian tradition today is the last day before Lent. Lent is a period of somber reflection, letting go of harmful to self and other habits and taking on good for self and other spiritual practices. In New Orleans, it is Fat Tuesday, a day of excess and pageantry. For Anglicans and Episcopalians and Catholics, it is Shrove Tuesday, which for some reason is all about eating pancakes instead of partying like it is 1999. I plan to be in a Fat Tuesday state of mind today.

I need that joy so I can more properly observe Ash Wednesday. As I’ve mentioned before Ash Wednesday is one of my favorite holidays, in part because it cannot be commercialized, and in part because I think we all need to spend time atoning and mourning. Pick any religious tradition, and there probably is a period of mourning and atoning, probably even fasting.

Personally, I have been feeling great joy lately. But the world is full of pain and suffering- the killing of Muslim college students in North Carolina, the shooting at a Jewish man at a synagog in Copenhagen, the beheadings of Egyptian Christians by ISIS. On top of that is the oil spill in Virginia and the almost inevitable mega-drought later this century.

Ash Wednesday, for me, is a time to acknowledge that joy always is flavored by loss. I got a great job promotion. This means four other people who applied for the same position didn’t get that job. My presence on this planet is not value neutral. When I gain others lose. My successes are not just due to my hard work; they also are the result of luck and various privileges I have. My failures are not just due to my inability; others have privileges and resources I do not have or have not had.

But Ash Wednesday without the revelry of Fat Tuesday turns a day of somber reflection into a despair wallow. We do not need cable TV. We do not need much of the crap in most of the stores. But I think we do need revelry. We need pageantry. We need costume and excess. We need exuberant movement- to dance and to sing. We need to fling our bodies full force into our lives, at least for a little while. We cannot always hold the horror. We need to channel electric joy juice. I believe that we can better hold the horror when we also let ourselves fully feel the joy.

Today I will celebrate, and tomorrow I will mourn. As I celebrate today, I will taste tomorrow’s ashes. And tomorrow, when I atone, I will savor a slip of fat, tasty joy.

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