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Fat and Ashes: A Lenten Preview

Ash Wednesday, ashes, Catholic, Lent

How much of your daily life is fat? How much of your daily life is ashes?

The holy season of Lent is approaching, and it begins with two big days: Mardi Gras and Ash Wednesday. Let’s start with a look at the first and the fat of our lives.

Fat

Fat Tuesday, fast food, overindulgence, obesity

Mardi Gras is French for Fat Tuesday, and it represents the last occasion for eating rich, fatty foods before the fast of Lent begins. However, who abstains from fat during 40 days of Lent anymore? Funny how that tradition has faded away, but the tradition of overindulgence and revelry has only increased. It says a lot about us.

We are a fat people. And I’m not talking about obesity here. I’m talking about greed, materialism, all forms of self-indulgence and excess. We even call legislative bills in Congress “pork” because there’s so much fat, so much excess that could be trimmed. Very few of us run lean households if financial constraints don’t compel us. Often, if we are forced to live within a tight budget, then we will use any excess resources to do something truly frivolous, just so that we don’t feel like we are being deprived.

Deprived of what? That’s the question. How many of the things that we spend money on, the things that we spend time on, are really just excess with no true benefit? Well, that’s a good thing to find out during Lent. Go without, and you will come to understand what extras are bloating you and weighing you down, crippling you even, and what extras are healthy additions of insulation and curve. That’s one of the reasons for the Lenten tradition of giving up things like chocolate, coffee, or Facebook for 40 days. If done prayerfully, we discover that our fulfillment as human beings is not dependent upon extra stuff. We are invited to shed the excess and find out what it truly means to be fulfilled.

We humans are not merely taste buds and pleasure sensors, after all. We have minds and hearts because we are not only of flesh but also of spirit, being created by God in divine image. The pure goodness of our souls gets tainted and soiled by self-centeredness — when we want what we want because it feels good, even if we know that it isn’t truly good for us or anyone else.

Ashes

ashes, soot

On the first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday, Catholics are required to fast (two small meals that won’t equal a whole, one full meal, no snacking), and we are invited to receive ashes upon our foreheads as a reminder that we human beings “are dust, and to dust” we will return.

Much of earthly life is perishable and will not continue into eternity with our spiritual souls. Bank accounts and trophies, wardrobes and complexions, high-rises with our names emblazoned at the tops and books with our names written boldly at the bottoms: all of these things will become ashes. They will return to the earth when our earthly bodies die. The possessions and accomplishments that we too often highly prize will not be resurrected at the end of days with our glorified bodies because they are not truly part of who we are eternally. Generous acts of love and kindness have everlasting effect on our souls, as do selfish acts of greed and cruelty — how we live now determines what will remain of us forever.

How much of my life will end up merely as ashes? As I meditate upon this question throughout Lent, with the help of the Holy Spirit, I pray that my life will be refined here and now to keep pure and brilliant the gold of my soul for the glory of eternity.

True Life

If we are too stuck on the surface of life — blinded by the bloat of fat, building up what will only become ashes — then we will not know and experience the profound depths of our souls, of who we truly and fully are now and forever. Our bodies are sacred and not to be profaned or abused, just as our souls are sacred and not to be ignored or neglected. My body and my soul are united as me, one person. Do I respect myself? Do I cherish myself and treat myself as sacred? Funny how self-centeredness leads us away from true self-respect and self-care. Think about it: what is the “self” that is involved and fulfilled when we are selfish? Nothing but fat and ashes.

We “look out for number one” and suffer from a false understanding of ourselves as autonomous and isolated from the lives of everybody else. We think that the sickness or sorrows of others have nothing to do with us because we live as fat and ashes, fallen away from the infinite connectedness and eternal reality of being human. Christ is that infinite connectedness to God, Creation, ourselves, and our fellow human beings as images of God. Christ is our eternal reality. Through, with, and in Christ, we are restored to true life, and may live it abundantly.

Ash Wednesday, ashes, Catholic, Lent

Do we die to self-centeredness in order to truly and fully live? Or do we live merely to die? These are the questions posed to us during the holy season of Lent, which culminates in the holiest season of all — the season of Resurrection, of Easter, of New Life: the season of eternity.

So this Lent, I will be asking myself: how much of my life is fat and how much of my life is ashes?

© 2019 Christina Chase


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Christina Chase View All

I don't call myself a poet — but the beating of my heart is poetry. I don't call myself a theologian — but the light of my mind seeks the Divine. Who I am is a Child of God, a Divine Creation, a person devoted to being fully human, fully alive.

9 thoughts on “Fat and Ashes: A Lenten Preview Leave a comment

  1. Christina this is a wonderful post—I’ve always participated in Ash Wednesday / Lent as I was raised an Episcopalian–as I’ve aged, this has all taken on such a deeper meaning in my life.
    Yet I’ve never thought so much about how much of my life is fat versus how much is ash…
    ash, for me, is more the goal…a lessening of the fat…the wantonness, the excessiveness, the abundance, the materialistic—the ash for me is not the passing away of what I’ve failed at or failed to do but is the cleansing of the fat…I do love your observation and of course your take on an important aspect of our collective Faith…
    thank you

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for reflecting with me! You remind me that in my original draft of this post I noted that many Christians participate in Ash Wednesday, not just Catholics!

    You also hit upon one of the challenges that I had in writing this piece. As you said, we certainly need to lessen the fat in our lives, that is, “the wantonness, the excessiveness, the abundance, the materialistic.” We can live here without them and the imagery that you shared of having these things burned away from us now, turning them to ashes, is beautiful. I chose to differentiate between ashes and fat in this reflection because of the words that are spoken over us as we receive the mark of ashes on our foreheads: “remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” It’s more than the materialistic excesses in our lives that will become ashes at the end of our time on earth.

    Thinking about our deaths is an important part of the Christian life. It’s along the lines of that famous thought that most people on their deathbeds do not wish that they had spent more time at the office but rather with their loved ones. College degrees, work titles, and published books are not excessive or even bad for us. They’re not fat. They can help us to bring about good things on earth and can even be the ways through which we evangelize others and help bring them to Christ with the power of the Holy Spirit. But as accomplishments in themselves they are only of the earth. For example, what’s important is not that we make sure we are seated on a Church committee, but rather that we make sure we are open and willing to serve in whatever way God leads us, including patiently wiping the nose of a little child. The intentions and actions that come from the purity of our hearts, united with Christ, are what remain in eternal life.

    I thoroughly enjoyed and appreciate your insight! Hope to continue seeing you here. The experience of our faith is so much richer when we can reflect together. Have a blessed Lent,
    Pax Christi

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great reminder, Christina. I wish you could come to our church and say this. I’m going to forward it, but that’s not the same, is it. Better than not getting your encouraging words at all, however. Keep on talking to us!

    Like

    • Thank you for this encouragement, Albert! I will keep on talking, but I need to remember to listen better too. I’ve missed your poems and insights, so I took your words as a reminder to visit you. And I’m very glad I did!

      Liked by 1 person

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