Pancakes and Ashes

Back in the days when I was a young lad and Sister Cephas was in charge of my religious education, Lent was a pretty big deal in the Ancestral Betz Home.  We would always attend Mass and get ashes on Ash Wednesday (one of our priests called it The Feast of The Black Thumb) and spend time contemplating what we could give up for the season — making sure that it was just the right blend of sacrifice-but-not-too-sacrificial, if you get my drift.  For example, all desserts might be tough, while candy by itself would be okay, and television was out of the question.  For a while we tried the “instead of giving something up, I’ll do good works and read the Bible everyday” strategy, but my parents saw that as a transparent attempt to keep Tastykakes in my life for six weeks.

Ash Wednesday

Of course, Ash Wednesday and all the Fridays were days of fasting and/or abstaining from meat.  This really never bothered me because that meant PB&J for lunch, which was my favorite anyway and for dinner we’d often have to make do with pancakes. Make do with pancakes?  Are you kidding me? Pancakes for dinner was awesome and still to this day I feel that anytime you can have breakfast foods for dinner it goes down as a WIN. The food “restrictions” about Lent could have lasted all year as far as I was concerned.

Of course, these days at The Aerie we’ve been trying to have more meatless meals for cardiovascular rather than spiritual reasons and easily cover more than one vegetarian day a week.  Does that make me a better person in the Church’s eyes?  I doubt it.


I guess I’ve been thinking back on those days as I’ve seen peoples’ facebook and twitter feeds blooming with ideas about what they’re considering giving up for Lent.  Ironically given the media, one of the most popular sacrifices seems to be social media, which is being equated with mental junk food.  To me, it seems like for many Lent has become sort of a limited-time shot at re-invigorating their failed New Year’s Resolutions.  But maybe I’m just being cynical and even just trying with a “fake it til you make it” attitude is worth some kudos.

So what about you – trying to kindle a spiritual devotion over these 40 days through prayer and sacrifice?  Trying to make yourself better by giving something up? Or will the Lenten season just pass like any other?

Me?  I think I’ll be making the case for more dinners of pancakes.

29 thoughts on “Pancakes and Ashes

  1. I would like to give up one of the seven deadly sins for Lent. And that is Sloth. I should exercise. And maybe I will, if the sun comes back and some warmth with it.
    But you will notice that I am old enough and wise enough not to say “I will” exercise just because I might not. :)

    I finally managed to give up going to church even on Christmas and Easter in the last five years. I consider that an accomplishment since church only makes me annoyed.

    The last time I went to a Christmas eve service we had to sit through an emotional barmy reading about Mary’s labor pains….it was almost porn-like in it’s gushing. (sorry…it was gushing).
    That was it for me.
    What I don’t need is to go listen to emotional fanatics wail about Christ’s 39 lashes…or however many it was. People are tortured and killed every day on this globe and while I sympathize with Christ I don’t see the purpose of overdramatizing the entire ordeal.

    So, um, no I won’t be doing Lent. Ok….does any of that answer your question??? ;)

  2. Pingback: Bright sadness: thoughts for Ash Wednesday « Ad Fontes

  3. First off, “Pancakes and Ashes” is a spectacular title. Being raised Presbyterian, the whole Lent thing wasn’t emphasized. As an adult, when people asked me what i’d given up for Lent, I used to say “heroin and marathon running.” My track record of success was flawless. This year, I haven’t decided yet. I still have another 130 minutes of sin to plan and enjoy. ;)

    • Glad you liked the title — I initially had Ashes and Pancakes (which is more temporally correct) but didn’t like it as much… ;)

      What was the final decision — and would heroin have to be while marathon running??

  4. Warning… this meanders. Quite a lot.

    I’ve really thought about it, as I do every year. And I’m not sacrificing anything special this year. Some might consider this a glass-half-empty response, but feel like I’ve given up a lot for quite a long time — Lent or no Lent — in order to help the people around me, and I feel like all that I do for them… that sort of gives me a waiver/pass that I can turn into the G-man if he asks for it. It’s not that I’m better or don’t need to, it’s just that right now, I feel like I am at my maximum for giving up part of myself. I’m sure in a few years, that will be different.

    Somehow though, if I ever get “there”, I don’t think he is going to ask for it. But I won’t put any money down on that bet though, just in case. ;)

    Truth be told… my primary motivation in replying to this post was because I wanted to mention that PancakesForDinner has been on my mind for the past week. Must. Make. Them. Soon…..

    I even have blueberries. Organic — God would like that I think. Not local though, but I think he’ll forgive me that. The only local fruit in my area at this time of year is apples. I’m getting very weary of apples. Didn’t Eve tempt Adam with an apple?

    (sidebar: I think it’s ironic that I live in one of the least religious states in the union, and apples are one of our primary agricultural products.)

  5. Us Baptist don’t have to give anything up for lent, plus we get to sit in the back of the church. Growing up, I didn’t know anyone Catholic and I was an adult working retail before I saw anyone with Ashes on their head, I had no idea, I thought it was dirt.

  6. I used to be Episcopalian (“Catholic Light”) and belonged to a church that took the whole notion of Lent very seriously. My daughters, pushed by their enthusiastic youth pastor, tried giving up chocolate, dessert, meat, and TV, with varying results. They were able to pass up on chocolate and dessert, but the no-TV fast lasted about 24 hours. I put the kibosh on the no-meat-for-Lent thing after my younger daughter became anemic. (I’m vegetarian, but I don’t believe children should go meatless, since red meat is one of the best nutritional sources for iron and those developing brain cells need the extra fat.)

    I tried giving up shopping for Lent, but given I had three growing children who seemed to go through shoe sizes every week, I was forced (really!) to venture into the mall and discount stores all through the season, when they were constantly running the pre-Easter and spring sales. I’d see a bargain, would stand there arguing with myself for ten minutes, then finally say, “Aw, to hell with it. That dress is a deal and I’d be stupid not to buy it now.”

    I did make it to every Ash Wednesday while I was a member of the church. I figured I could at least deal with a smidgen of ashes on my forehead.

  7. Oh dear….don’t ask me to site sources! I do know that Jesus pissed off the Jewish leaders by telling people that they didn’t have to obey Jewish law to the point of losing a valuable animal by leaving in a hole until the Sabbath was over. Jesus was a common sensicle kind of guy, unlike a lot of his present day followers!

    • I just couldn’t leave this alone, so I googled it: Matthew 12:11. Except in the King James’ version, they say “sheep.” “And he said unto them, What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out?”

      That was disappointing, finding out it wasn’t an ass. Har!

      (What a strange week. First I’m looking up trigonometry formulas, now I’m checking Bible verses. )

  8. Yeah, my Mom was an Atheist so I vaguely remember my friends observing Lent, but that’s about it. I like the structure of religion in that commemorating holidays gives us a sense of purpouse and predictability. My “eco resolutions” are in a way tied to my old Wiccan observations, in that I change them every month and they are meant to reflect the season. Some of them in a sense are about giving things up like store bought cleaners, paper towels, disposable bags and cups…..but instead of being a sacrifice, it has been a treat (and has saved me money)!

    • Emmy — I think you’ve articulated something really important, that your observations are tied to what’s important to you and that they are incorporated into your daily life. I think the thing about these Lenten observances is that that they rarely seem integrated into peoples’ lives or personal philosophies.

  9. I only recently (like, 2 days ago) heard of the pancakes connection to Lent/Ash Wednesday. What the heck is that about? Though I was told of the connection, it was not explained.

    Since I’m not religious, I’m not involved in any of it. And I was downright proud of not using Fat Tuesday and an excuse to eat crap food.

    • L — In the Catholic faith, you are supposed to abstain from meat (though fish does not count as meat) on Ash Wednesday and all Fridays in Lent. Mom would often make pancakes instead of going to the tried-and-true fishstick dinner!

      • hmm. the other person who posted it said it’s tradition to have pancakes on Mardi Gras night. But not like a treat or anything – just some kind of “that’s what you’re supposed to eat” kind of thing.

        not being religious sure saves me a lot of hassle!

  10. Did you see the recipe I had up a while back for Carrot Cake Pancakes? They are awesome, AND they have four whole carrots in them. And yes, we eat them for dinner.

  11. Well, as a Jew turned atheist who grew up in the bible belt where everyone was some form of Protestant, I didn’t have much exposure to Catholicism until college. I remember the first time I saw someone with ashes on their forehead, a friend had to tell me what it was for. Thank goodness I didn’t stop the person and make myself look like an idiot! One of my roomates was Catholic, and she had icons all over her desk and would light candles around them sometimes. It would freak out my friends who would come to visit, but I never really cared much about it.

    I do find it interesting what people choose to give up for Lent and that some nonreligious folks do it too. John Scalzi is giving up Coke Zero. I used to try to give up leavened bread during Pesach, but stopped that when I realized that I wasn’t a fan of (and didn’t believe in) any organized religion. That’s a story for another day.

    • BF — Emmy mentioned earlier about integrating philosophical choices into her life, and I think that’s what bugs me about Lent these days — that it really is some sort of New Year’s Resolution do-over. It seems that if you’re going to participate the faith aspect should be important. Otherwise, you can commit to a change (or a sacrifice) whenever the time seems right.

      I’d be interested to hear your religious journey on another day.

  12. Loved this post, Steve — pancakes for dinner is just about the best thing in the world!

    I posted on my blog today about Lent and my FB and Twitter “sacrifice.” I try to make it more than just an “I’m giving up M&M’s for Jesus” sort of deal — I think getting my brain out of FB for a while is helping me not be so…me me me me me. Which was one of Jesus’ main teachings — it’s not all about me. Two weeks in and I can feel my perspective changing already… :)

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