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Hallo again to all.

You probably gasped, as we did, when you first came to grips with the reality that Lent starts this week. We groused to some friends that 'We are not ready for Lent! It's so soon!' One person's unsympathetic response, which we've taken to heart, was 'I thought the whole point of Lent was that one can not, by definition, be ready for it.'

Good, because we aren't ready for it. We'll eat pancakes on Tuesday night, receive ashes on Wednesday, and begin preparing ourselves for Easter and the resurrection. There's no preparation for Lent; Lent is preparation for Easter.

In the scant few days before Lent's penitence, we find ourselves focussing not on any deep theological or philosophical content, but rather on pancakes. Besides bread and wine at the altar, our Anglican tradition has few ritual foods. We call our major festivals 'feasts', which implies that in past centuries they were celebrated by feasting. But there's no mention of the menu. We don't know whether or not the first Feast of Saint Michael the Archangel served boar, venison, or ox. We know of no pervasive communion-wide Anglican tradition of eating a certain food in a certain part of the liturgical year -- except that of pancakes on Shrove Tuesday. If there were food beyond bread and wine commemorated in cathedral windows, it would perhaps be pancakes.

Stained-glass pancake windows?

Menus are more cultural than theological: the linkage of a particular food to a particular holiday was likely the habit of a community, not the dictate of some arch Bishop [sic]. Pancakes on Shrove Tuesday were a pleasant way to use up a supply of eggs, which couldn't be eaten during Lent. Do Anglicans have warm-weather parties like Mardi Gras or Carnival, or cold-weather celebrations like Fasching or Sledziowka? No, we eat pancakes with extra eggs in them the evening before Lent begins.

The North American pancake bears only slight resemblance to its namesake from the British Isles. It is ordinary food, not just ceremonial food, and many North Americans treasure family traditions of pancakes for breakfast once a week. Most English and Irish seem to eat pancakes just once a year, as supper on Pancake Tuesday. England has ancient traditions involving women racing while holding a pancake in a hot skillet, supposedly commemorating a mediaeval lass who forgot to put down her pan when she heard the shrove bell and ran to church seeking forgiveness. In those countries where the eating of pancakes is common -- Canada and the USA -- we find that nearly everyone has a family custom, childhood recollection, or cultural tradition involving pancakes. Whether that tradition is to eat them in a restaurant every Thursday, serve them to the children every Saturday, cook them over a campfire on the annual family camping trip, or to consume them as a normal part of life, we note that North Americans and Scots find pancakes to be comfort food, evoking the safety and simplicity of an earlier time.

That safety and simplicity feels properly Lenten. Somehow it feels to us that the world has more to feel penitential about this year than in the recent past, and that our need for the Resurrection is greater than ever. We'll spend part of our Lent thinking about war and peace, famine and feast, disaster and recovery, dark and light. There is so much war, famine, disaster, and dark in the world this Lenten season that we'll not run out of thoughts.

On a lighter note, Brian has written (in his capacity as an occasional AO columnist) an essay about pancakes themselves, how the various kinds differ, and how they are best made and cooked and served and eaten. Have a look, especially if you plan to cook pancakes this Tuesday.

See you next week, suitably eaten of pancake, received of ash -- and beginning the journey towards Easter.

Cynthia's signature
Brian's signature
Cynthia McFarland
Brian Reid

Last updated: 6 February 2005

A thin blue line
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