This year Pancake Day falls on the last day of February. In homes all over the country people will be mixing flour, eggs and milk together ready to fry and toss into pancakes. I still remember the excitement I felt as a small boy as my mother went into production line mode, creating a seemingly endless supply of pancakes for me and my siblings. We would then load them with lashings of sugar and sprinkle with lemon juice, or if we were really lucky fill them with chocolate spread. Even today it is hard to resist a French crêpe filled with enticing sweet fillings, or the luxury of a stack of pancakes layered with bacon, blueberries and maple syrup!
Like so many traditions, the origins of this custom has its roots in religious observance. Pancake Day, also known as Shrove Tuesday, is always on the day preceding Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, a period of fasting, that this year starts on 1st March, and finishes on Easter Saturday.
The purpose of Shrove Tuesday was self-examination, to consider what wrongs should be repented of, what amendments of life should be addressed, and what areas of spiritual growth should be cultivated. In anticipation of the coming season of abstinence and plain fare, people would empty their cupboards and eat up richer fatty foods before the Lenten fast. Then during the run up to Easter they would abstain from rich food, echoing Jesus’ 40 day fast in the wilderness. The purpose of fasting (total or partial) is to control our natural appetites and cravings in order to heighten our spiritual desire for God.
The phenomena of Dry January, where people give up alcohol for the month after the excesses of Christmas, demonstrates that even people with no religious sensibilities see value in seasons of abstinence. If we are able to show such restraint for the sake of our physical health could we not also undertake similar for our spiritual wellbeing?
This year I have decided to give up chocolate for Lent with the aim that every time I choose to say no to chocolate I will be reminded to focus my attention on Christ. I do this in the certain knowledge that God’s love for me is not determined by the strength of my will power but by his unchanging character. Nothing I can do will make God love me more, nothing I can do will make God love me less. However as I deny myself a simple pleasure my heart becomes more closely aligned to his.
May I encourage you to give up a simple pleasure this Lent in order to press deeper into Christ? You might give up particular food or drink, or abstain from technology such as TV or internet. In their place substitute listening for God’s voice. He longs to get your attention and speak to you.