Stangl

Happy Lent to you!

While we were finding new places to put still more snow last week, revelers in New Orleans and Brazil were enjoying carnivale, a final fling to get sin out of their systems before the introspection and self denial of Lent.

I have never been to either celebration, but if there ever were a year to get away to someplace warm for a party without long term consequences, this would have been the year to travel.

Caution: I am about to enter into “old man” speak here for a great deal of the column.

It seems to me that an argument could be made for this ancient pagan practice of carnivale. The Lenten calendar calls for 40 days of prayer, introspection, and self denial, the same amount of time Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness before starting his ministry. If people are going to be tasked with self denial, it is only fitting that one last spree is held before the party is over.

Ash Wednesday is the start of Lent and the service is one of the most sobering hours you will ever spend in a church. The symbolism of having ashes rubbed on your forehead and being told “remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” resonates with us all. Our time here is finite and it is often a good thing to be reminded of the end so we will focus on what is important.

Even though nearly everyone enjoys a good party, a case could be made that too much of a good thing is a bad thing, even if you are taking a 40 day break afterward.

Time and again in history, civilization has shown that maintaining the delicate balance between living well and partying into oblivion is, at best, a tricky proposition. We usually go from one extreme to another, as the pendulum swing of virtue and vice seldom finds time to pause somewhere in the middle. Reform seeks to balance sin, freedom wants to break the oppression of morality.

The early church often sought to be a force for moderation by taking formerly pagan traditions and adapting them to the new faith. The idea behind carnivale is a pagan rite of renewal as spring returns. What better way to harness this energy and channel it into faith than to allow it to happen before ending the party for 40 days?

In our nation, the last 50 years since many traditional values were challenged (and some discarded) have seen excesses exact a toll on families, communities, and our society. The abuse of drugs and promiscuity without consequence have scarred our psyches, and yes, our souls.

Some enjoy not having to take responsibility and see any talk of aspiring to a higher purpose as a criticism of hedonism.

But it is not too late to make a change. As the pendulum swings one way, it is a law of physics that it will swing back.

During the next month of preparation, I would encourage you to embrace self denial. In my opinion, “no” is a word that isn’t heard too often. I think we would all be better off if we didn’t get everything we wanted.

But it could be the ashes talking…

As always, I welcome your comments. You can reach me by email at tstangl@theameryfreepress.com, telephone 715-268-8101 or write me at P.O. Box 424, Amery, WI, 54001.

Thanks for reading; I’ll keep in touch. Feel free to do the same.