I’ve spent the past several years of Pagan life feeling superior about Lent.
This is also how I felt growing up fundamentalist Protestant. The Bible said nothing about Lent. So we didn’t do Lent. I’d see my Catholic friends giving up things they enjoyed, like chocolate or French fries. And I wouldn’t taunt them about it, but I did not see the point. You like chocolate, eat chocolate. What’s the problem?
As a Pagan, I felt much more in tune with Laissez le bon temps roulez. St. Louis has embraced its New Orleans roots since the 1980s, and now has what is reported to be the second-largest Mardi Gras celebration in the country. The Mother City’s is still the largest, of course.
And it’s a good time even when it’s cold and rainy here, as it was this year. There’s the Mystic Krewe of Barkus pet parade. The Weiner Dog Derby and the High-Heeled Drag Race. The main parade on Saturday, the torchlight evening parade on Fat Tuesday itself.
I’ve been to all of them over the years. I’ve eaten my share of technicolor King’s Cake and sweet, rich paczki, spicy jambalaya and smoky gumbo. I’ve had the party, slept off the hangover, and gone on with my life. All the fun and none of the sacrifice.
I don’t think that’s right any more. It feels unbalanced.
I think of the Christians who at some point today will go to church, kneel, and have their foreheads marked with the ashes of last year’s triumphal Palm Sunday fronds. Who will spend the next six weeks in a spirit of penitence and sacrifice, followed by the rejoicing of Easter.
It wasn’t until I began to live the concept of sacrifice in my life that I began to grow spiritually.
I still remember the first time in a ritual I was asked about sacrifice. It was at a Diana’s Grove Mystery School ritual four or five years ago. Each of us was asked what we would sacrifice to achieve our life goals.
And I didn’t have an answer.
All that came was that I had lost so very much at that time, that I had nothing left to give. Or nothing more I was willing to give up.
It didn’t matter that I’d heard “sacrifice” defined as “to make sacred.” I felt that I’d been the one laid on the altar, bound and helpless as the knife descended.
And yet—had I remembered it at the time, there had been a vision in mediation at another ritual, years before, on the first full moon after Samhain. In which I had seen myself on that altar in a chamber beneath the Standing Stones. And the knife that descended cut my bonds and set me free.
An answer to the Grove priestess’ question could have been, “I will give up my free time and some business income to be here on weekends. I will work in the kitchens, sweep floors, clean toilets to earn tuition for the weekend seminars. I will give up time during the month to work through the lesson packets.” Because all of those things, I did. And they did not seem like sacrifices. They simply seemed like things I needed to do to reclaim my life.
I think that is the nature of many sacrifices. They simply seem like things we must do in order to live an authentic life. In Wisconsin, thousands of people sacrificed time and income to protest legislation they think is unjust. In Libya, people are sacrificing their safety and their lives to live in a more free society.
One of my friends has sacrificed a year of income and free time to transform himself from a computer programmer to a registered nurse. I spend more of my income on food than I ever have because I want to support sustainable farming and humane treatment of food animals. Is that a sacrifice? I do not think of it as one, and yet, perhaps it is.
I know serious spiritual seekers who place offerings to their Gods on altars. Who spend time every day in prayer and mediation. Who work diligently to expand their skills and their consciousness. Who make a sacred offering of their lives.
We need more such offerings if we are to make a difference in our own lives, the lives of others, and the future of the planet.
Today, the energy of sacrifice and contemplation is in the air. It’s a good time to sit in meditation and ask ourselves what we would give up to make ourselves better people, and the world a better place. What we would sacrifice to achieve our goals.
And then, to lay that sacrifice on the altar of our Gods. And set ourselves free.