On Shrove Tuesday

The Council of Elrond


So delectable you may need shriving thereafter (Source)

Today goes by many names: Pancake Day, Carnival, and perhaps most famously and well-known today, Mardi Gras. However, as a broad concept for a date, the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday and the final day before Lent is called Shrove Tuesday, the concluding day of the historic liturgical season of Shrovetide. It is a period of self-reflection before the penitential season, and a day of celebration, particularly around food. Communities would indulge heavily in butters, other fats, and sweets to rid their homes of them in preparation for the fasting and abstinence of Lent. In fact, the continual associate of Shrove Tuesday with victuals, a connection that seems to cross both borders and cultures, can make us feel like Bilbo at the Council of Elrond, wondering why we need so much discussion and contemplation before we make for our next meal.

Yet though perhaps many in New Orleans today prepare vigilantly for Mardi Gras and sleep through Ash Wednesday, and though perhaps Pancake Day has taken on a life of its own across the old British Commonwealth, yet it is worth recalling that Shrove Tuesday is only indirectly connected to donuts and chocolate. The term shrove is a derivative of the now-archaic English word shrive, which means “the act of a priest hearing confession and granting absolution.” How marvelous language can be in its succinctness, and what paucity we have of it in the modern era, where Google attempts to auto-correct this fascinating word to the name of a certain prolific political family!

At the Council of Elrond, there has already been much feasting, and more food and celebration will come before the Fellowship must depart: for the wise recognize how lean and challenging the road ahead will be, and how many simple pleasures will need to be sacrificed to reach the slopes of Mt. Doom. However, the Council of Elrond is much more than that: it is a period of instruction, of unveiling ancient history, and of shriving. Bilbo asks pardon for the misleading nature of his original account of the finding of the Ring. Gloin slowly reveals the true reason behind the taking of Moria. Legolas wishes the council to not find true fault in the Elves of Mirkwood for the escape of Gollum. And Gandalf seeks to absolve his absence, so that their (and especially Frodo’s) trust in him may not have been in vain.

Amidst the colorful and festive activity of this day, perhaps, there is an opportunity to imitate the members of the Council of Elrond. On one hand, perhaps we make time for an actual Confession, and set ourselves aright in front of both God and man before Lent begins. On the other hand, perhaps we take the time to reflect on the stories of our accounts. These may be sins at times, but they can also be something more uncomfortably gray. Have I, like Bilbo, misled myself or others in understanding who I truly am? Have I, like Gloin, held back the deeper reason that drives my daily actions? Have I, like Legolas, doubted myself for investing too much kindness into an ungrateful other? Have I, like Gandalf, found myself in unforeseen circumstances that require explanation to those with whom I have relationships?

There is much to be considered, and long days ahead. So have a pancake, donut, or other sweet today, but do so knowing that we must tighten our belts tomorrow.  

2016’s Reflection: “On Instructing the Ignorant
2015’s Reflection: “On the Long Strands of History


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