This week--Lent begins! On Wednesday, Ash Wednesday it starts. For several days now I've been making preparations for this season of Lent. Simply put, Lent is a season within the Christian year in which focus on prayer, repentance, fasting, self-denial, cultivating gratitude, simple living, alms-giving and service seek to bring us closer to God. It begins with Ash Wednesday, when the reception of an ash cross smudged on our foreheads (traditionally a symbol of mortality & repentance) at church helps us to recognize our own mortality, repent our wrongs, and vow to make a return to God. For the next 40 days we re-commit to honoring our precious life, changing our lives, re-calibrating our hearts to God and living more like Jesus. It's a great time for recharging our spiritual batteries. :) (That's my shelf-altar with purple cloth and candle ready for Lent.)
But first, some festivity! Tomorrow is Fastnacht Day. Where I'm from in Pennsylvania in the USA--York County, with it's rich German heritage--Fastnacht Day is the day before Ash Wednesday, meaning literally "Fast Night", in which traditionally the best foods were eaten up before the more slim diet of Lent began. (The day goes by many other names, depending on place/culture--Pancake Day, Mardi Gras, etc.) Fastnachts are a type of doughnuts (not to be confused with donuts... though many people eat donuts on the day!). You can now buy donuts in many supermarkets here. I don't usually care for them much, as they don't really seem like donuts from back home. And I've never actually made doughnuts or donuts myself... In recent years though, I've been making cinnamon rolls for the day. Plenty of butter and sugar in these to qualify for festivity before fasting and self-denial! ;)
Lent is a time when food comes into focus in a great way! In the Catholic faith tradition, we fast on certain days during Lent. And Fridays are given over to fish or meat-free meals. I prepare a lot of meat-free soups during Lent. Here I've prepared Fish Soup and a Tomato-Bouillon--lots for the freezer for the six Lenten weeks to come! An emphasis on simple meals is encouraged during the 40 days of this season. Simple meals is a small form of self-denial, a way of introducing a heart-felt solidarity for those who have less than ourselves. Fridays are a focal point, as it was the day Jesus gave Himself for us--totally, selflessly. You can find more info on Catholic Lent practices here, if you'd like to read more. For the past couple of years I've been "practicing" Fish Fridays all-year round, as well as more frequent fasting, and it has expanded my faith experience!
For a few years now, I've also been making these Pretzels for Lent. So easy, and so good! I make mine half whole wheat, half regular wheat--wonderful flavor with a bit of each. They make a tasty side to a cup of Lenten soup, or as a small snack with a cup of tea suitable for fast days. Here is a nice article on how pretzels fit in with Lent.
Daily prayer is an important part of my life, and even more so during Lent. I need the quiet time with God. My day just isn't the same without it! Praying the Rosary is also part of my mornings. During certain seasons of the Catholic year, Lent & Easter, and Advent & Christmas especially, I like adding reading from a daily devotional, which offers extra prayers, and deeper look into Bible passages connected with the spiritual seasons. This year during Lent I'm reading the devotional Living Lent with Mercy by Pope Francis.
Mercy is an extra theme this year! 2016 has been specially designated by Pope Francis as a Jubilee Year of Mercy. A Holy Year dedicated to a time of cultivating, sharing and offering grace, peace, conversion and joy for all people. A truly beautiful moment in time!