TRUE STORIES — Dancing with the stars

J.T. Knoll
J.T. Knoll

For over 40 years on Shrove Tuesday I’ve walked the half block east on Euclid Street to St. Peter’s Episcopal for a take home supper of pancakes and link sausage (and bring some extra back to freeze for later).

But as the church is closed due to the virus, this year it was not to be. So, as not to be denied, I made hotcakes myself. No link sausage in the fridge so I substituted scrambled eggs. Yum, yum, eat em’ up!

Shrove Tuesday is sometimes known as Pancake Day (no offense to the Kiwanis as I dearly love their December flapjack feed that was also cancelled this year) as pancakes were traditionally eaten as a way to indulge one’s self and use up fat, butter and eggs — foods not traditionally allowed in Lent, which begins the following day. It's called Fat Tuesday (in French, Mardi = Tuesday; Gras = fat) for the same reason.

Fat Tuesday is followed by Ash Wednesday in the Catholic Church; the day on which the priest marks the heads 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." As I’ve not been attending Sacred Heart because of Covid, this year I performed the ritual at home. I first lit some charcoal and added a few grains genuine Catholic incense I bought years back at the Assumption Abbey gift shop. Then I rang some chimes, chanted a psalm and added some dry palm leaves from last Easter to the charcoal.

Once the palm was burned, I gathered its ash and crossed my forehead; also my wife’s and son’s in the traditional way. But I changed the avowal a little in acknowledgement of science — which has confirmed we are made of the same material as the stars — so it became, "Remember that thou are star dust, and to star dust though shall return."

Lent is a time when many Christians prepare for the Easter mystery by observing a period of fasting, repentance, moderation and spiritual discipline — an interval to set aside time for reflection and contemplation.

Growing up Catholic it was mostly the time we vowed to "give up" something for the six weeks preceding Easter — usually something like candy or our favorite TV show. Sometimes going to the movies.

I’m thinking that everyone should get a "giving up" pass this year — as we’ve been denying ourselves plenty since the Covid-19 restrictions came into being — and just go with reflective and contemplative prayer.

Franciscan teacher Rich Rohr says that this form of prayer fosters "authentic encounters with God."

“God becomes more a verb than a noun, more a process than a conclusion, more an experience than a dogma, more a personal relationship than an idea. There is Someone dancing with us, and we are not afraid of making mistakes.”

I really love that last sentence. So much so that I’ve been using it as my daily focus for Lenten contemplation.

Rohr goes on to explain: “We do not pray to Christ; we pray through Christ. Or even more precisely, Christ prays through us. This is a very different experience! We are always and forever the conduits, the instruments, the tuning forks, the receiver stations.

“To live in such a way is to live inside of an unexplainable hope, because our lives will now feel much larger. In fact, they are no longer merely our own lives and, yet, paradoxically, we are more ourselves than ever before. That is the constant and consistent experience of the mystics.”

For Rohr, a mystic is anyone who places experiencing God personally as their number one priority — as opposed to simply knowing about God in Scripture, church doctrine and theology.

I’ve found that I can certainly do this in prayer, both professed and silent. But also in singing, listening to music, dancing, fishing, bird watching, reading, drawing, helping a neighbor, and visiting with a friend. The trick is to be mindful of the connection; the blessing in what I’m doing.

One I’ve really been missing over the past week — because of the treacherous cold and snow — is long walks with my dog at dawn; a shared contemplative practice when I engage with nature and my beloved friend, Arlo. Which is to say, when “There is Someone dancing with us and we are not afraid of making mistakes.”

J.T. Knoll is a writer, speaker and eulogist. He also operates Knoll Training & Consulting in Pittsburg. He can be reached at 231-0499 or