Last Tuesday was Shrove Tuesday, the beginning of Lent, a time when many Christians prepare for Easter by observing a period of fasting, repentance, moderation and spiritual discipline. A period to set aside time for reflection on Christ — his suffering and his sacrifice, his life, death, burial and resurrection.

Last Tuesday was Shrove Tuesday, the beginning of Lent, a time when many Christians prepare for Easter by observing a period of fasting, repentance, moderation and spiritual discipline. A period to set aside time for reflection on Christ — his suffering and his sacrifice, his life, death, burial and resurrection.

Shrove Tuesday is sometimes known as Pancake Day (no offense to the Kiwanis) as pancakes were traditionally eaten as a way to indulge yourself and use up fat, butter and eggs, the foods not allowed in Lent. It's also called Fat Tuesday (in French, Mardi = Tuesday; Gras = fat) for the same reason. These days, many churches, like St. Peter's, hold a community pancake supper to maintain the tradition. Some hold annual pancake races and pancake flipping contests.

"Shrove" is the past tense of the word "shrive," which means to hear a confession, assign penance, and absolve from sin. When a person has been "shriven," he has confessed his sins, been assured of God's forgiveness, and been given spiritual advice. The term survives today in ordinary usage in the expression "short shrift". To give someone short shrift is to pay very little attention to his excuses or problems. (Who among has not had the experience of getting the "short shrift" when it comes to the afflictions of our lives?) The longer expression is, "to give him short shrift and a long rope," which formerly meant to hang a criminal with a minimum of delay.

Shrove Tuesday is also the day before Ash Wednesday in the Catholic church. The day on which the priest marks the head of worshipers with black ashes in the shape of a cross as he says, "Remember that thou art dust, and to dust though shall return." It's my favorite ritual  in the Catholic liturgy as it says, quite simply, "Wake up! It's time for a little self reflection." (Sometimes I like to lighten it up a little by acknowledging astrophysics — which has confirmed we are made of the same material as the stars — so that it becomes, "Remember that thou art star dust, and to star dust though shall return.")

Still, it's a hard thing to do, to wake up, that is, and deal with the realities of life and reflect on my mistakes, my wrong roads taken. Lucky for me I have some guideposts for the road ahead in the liturgy and stories of Lent — the temptations of Jesus in the desert, the prodigal son, the tale of Martha and Mary, and, most importantly, the passion of Christ.

I suppose it was no coincidence that, earlier Tuesday morning, I'd been working with someone on some very painful life issues and we had spoken to it being the Lenten season. Part of what we talked about was the passion and how it provides lessons and guidance for the struggles we face — the dread of going through an upcoming painful situation symbolized in The Agony In the Garden; the physical pain associated with life by The Scourging; life's mental anguish by The Crowning with Thorns; packing the burdens of life by The Carrying of the Cross;  dying to old ways of being by The Crucifixion; being reborn to spiritual awareness in The Resurrection; and, the move toward a higher states of spiritual awareness in The Ascension.

W.W. O'Bryan wrote me in an e-mail later in the week about the Jesus in the desert and how it relates to the human condition, "Since repentance, forgiveness, and belief are so central to Christian living, proclaiming the gospel means that we turn from our sinful ways, forgive others, and express our belief by saying yes to God’s will for us.  None of these is easy to do, which is why proclaiming the gospel is a lifelong mission.   Proclaiming the gospel doesn’t mean we all have to go out on street corners and be Bible thumpers.  More eloquent proclamation than words (even sacred words) is the life we live."

The life we live, indeed.

I'm of the notion that one of the main reasons we gather at church or in community is to remind us that, even though we may be alone on the wayfaring journey of life, there are others on a parallel way. And this sharing of the pilgrimage, though most times unspoken, is most precious.

Walking west up the alley from St. Peter's Episcopal church on Shrove Tuesday, buoyed on the purple afterglow of a winter sunset, I found myself feeling unforced gratitude.  No doubt it had something to do with the heavenly aroma of the pancakes and sausage I was carrying home to share with Linda. Regardless, it was as if I'd broken through a sheath of some kind, and was able, for a fleeting moment, to not only accept my life with its endless paradoxes, but experience the grace of the parallel way.

J.T. Knoll is a writer, speaker and prevention and wellness coordinator at Pittsburg State University. He also operates Knoll Wellness Training & Consulting in Pittsburg. He can be reached at 231-0499 or jtknoll@swbell.net.