Mardi Gras, as most folks know, means "Fat Tuesday," and it refers to the fact that prior to lent and its time of fasting, all the fat in a home is to be cleared out. Most folks in our tradition don't follow that particular rubric. Some may give something up for Lent: chocolate, television, desserts. But the strong contrast between a time of feasting and a time of fasting is largely lost on us mainline Protestants.
Ash Wednesday we will make ashes available for those who wish to receive them as part of our Ash Wednesday service. Wearing sackcloth (sort of biblical burlap I guess) and ashes was a traditional way of showing repentance. But marking ones forehead or hand with ashes can also serve as a reminder of mortality. Dust to dust, ashes to ashes, and all that. Lots of Protestants resist the idea of ashes (indeed the whole notion of Ash Wednesday) but as someone who presides over many committal services where we scatter the ashes of folks I have known and loved, it proves to be a powerful symbol for me personally.
This Lent I am planning on taking some extra time each week for silence, for prayer, for mediation and devotional reading. Time above and beyond my usual morning practices. Not because I am holier than thou--or anyone else. Rather because I need to be more alert to the presence of the Holy in my life and in our world. I won't be fasting, but I will be remembering my own mortality. Not in a morbid way, but rather in a way that honors the fact that I am a human being. That is worth celebrating and contemplating. That is worth bright beads and somber ashes.
(Photo Credit: Bruce Findley, Mardi Gras Sunday 2020 at SCUCC)