Making a pot of tea I can cope with in the morning. Walking the dog - as long as it’s sunny. But no way could I manage a pancake race at dawn. So, on Tuesday, it was with considerable admiration that I watched our trainee choristers take part in one of our newer Cathedral traditions to mark the start of Lent – tossing pancakes in the Close for breakfast (see story here)
Lent crept up on me unawares. It shouldn’t have done. I helped the cubs make pancakes the other week and the ends of supermarket aisles have helpfully gathered together lemons, eggs and flour to remind us. And the Cathedral prepares for its special Ash Wednesday services, and takes on a reflective Lenten mode.
I gave up giving things up for Lent a few years ago. In a moment of madness, I made grand gesture. I would give up meat for Lent. In my mind I looked forward to a glorious Easter to be celebrated in style with a traditional English roast leg of lamb! I found myself drooling in anticipation while cycling along country lanes watching lambs happily gambolling in spring sunshine blissfully ignorant of the fate that awaited them. Easter day couldn’t come soon enough.
But the Lenten fast took its toll. I got as far as carving the beautifully roasted joint; I piled my plate high with the usual accompaniments but could go no further. In disbelief, I watched the assembled company tuck in to the mother of all Easter Sunday lunches while I was unable to eat a thing. After 40 days without meat, the prospect of eating a dead animal made my stomach churn. I began a 9 year sojourn wandering through a vegetarian wilderness – only to be eventually rescued in a Michelin starred restaurant in France where the only vegetarian item on the menu une salade verte was unable to compete with much more tempting carnivorous alternatives. My vegetarian days came to an abrupt end.
When I got home on Tuesday I found each member of the family debating what they would give up for Lent – wine, chocolate and Minecraft. I quickly changed the subject and started the pancakes. As in many families, making, tossing and eating pancakes is a shrove Tuesday tradition – this year given a modern twist – with jam, caramel, chocolate, banana, golden syrup (and I’m sure I saw a combination of all of those on at least one pancake) eclipsing the traditional lemon and sugar.
Like the choristers pancake tossing – new traditions are built on the foundations of the old – and in so doing refresh them and keep them alive. And having a tradition – particularly one that you can make your own and refresh is comforting and reassuring. So much in our life can change that taking part in something that doesn’t – whether it be giving up something for lent, making pancakes on shrove Tuesday, watching choristers in the Close or simply attending choral evensong - can take us out of ourselves . Cares and worries are temporarily set aside, there to be taken up later. Traditions, whether they are family or ecclesiastical ones – point to something that exists beyond us; to take part to watch, to participate, to contribute and to be carried by them.