WHITNEY CAIN, PHD

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Pancakes for Supper

I’ve attended Shrove Tuesday Pancake Suppers most of my life, but just realized I had no idea why.  My relationship with our church’s rector is best described as cordially disdainful.  We honor this by mostly avoiding one another, but on Sunday I signaled a détente and asked him to define “shrove.” 

He started telling me what we do on Shrove Tuesday.  “No, no I got that.  Pancakes use up fat.  ‘Gras’ is French for fat – which sounds way better than ‘fat,’ by the way.  ‘Mardi’ is French for Tuesday.  That equals Fat Tuesday, pancake suppers, and a big party in New Orleans.  What does ‘shrove’ mean?  Give me a sentence.”  (I don’t know why he doesn’t find me charming.) 

He said, “What?”  I answered, “How’s this:  ‘I need to shrive my closet.  I can’t find anything in there.’” 

“It’s also about preparation,” he responded. 

“OK, OK.  What about this:  ‘He really tied one on.  He did a big shrove.  Then he went to rehab.’” 

“That’s not it either.  Shriving involves repentance.” 

“Isn’t rehab repentant enough?”  He sighed.  Détente off.

The dictionary defines shriving as acknowledging another’s sins, granting absolution for them, and providing spiritual guidance.  My father often answers lengthy responses with, “I’m not studying you.  Finish up.”  That seems a shriving of sorts.

Faith and religion are complicated for me, as I suppose they are for most people.  Still, I find powerful comfort in ritual and community.  Plus, I like applying my own hopefully-not-too-sacrilegious spin on rites and rituals.  Here’s my Shrove Tuesday spin:  This day marks time to release the unnecessary and make space for what better serves us.  Certainly, making space is important enough to happen whenever and wherever we see fit.  It shouldn’t be limited to Lenten observances or material goods, but I appreciate Shrove Tuesday’s specific call for it.

When I see the Rector at the Pancake Supper, I’ll have another shrove sentence or two for him.  “I shrove the Nutella in my pantry in hopes of something less butt-widening” or “I’m going to shrive my opinions in the Vestry meeting.  Sorry about last week.”  Until then, happy shriving to you and yours.

Whitney Cain