Mardi Gras is so much more than what most people, especially the media, understand it to be. I feel like I can speak with some kind of authority on the subject, especially because I am a New Orleans girl. Born and raised here, some of my earliest memories involve going to Mardi Gras parades. My dad, who grew up in the heart of the city, tells me stories of his days growing up here, attending parades, breaking for lunch to eat Red Beans and Rice that his mama made, and then heading back out for more parades. Many of the dates that he took my mom on involved going to Mardi Gras parades.
I want you to really be open to this post, so let’s get some important things out of the way right off the bat:
Mardi Gras is so much more than Bourbon Street.
Mardi Gras is so much more than drinking and debauchery.
Mardi Gras is so much more than some sort of pagan idol worship where sin abounds and grace is somehow absent.
Mardi Gras is like real life; it’s about gifts and blessings and human beings who choose how they use or abuse those gifts and blessings.
Remember that food and drink are not the poison. It’s about the inner man, one’s inner heart of hearts.
Okay, so now, I can share! Today is Lundi Gras, the Monday before Fat Tuesday. I have been at parades all weekend, reflecting on how Mardi Gras seems to be a microcosm of my life. (Keep reading.)
Two weeks ago, I arrived in Rome for an intensive week of PhD classes. Though I was in classes all day every day and so exhausted, there was a restfulness to my consistent schedule. I only had to be about one thing for a whole week. It felt more like a retreat to me than anything, especially because I was seven hours ahead of the New Orleans time zone and so pretty much detached from people (and demands) at home.
When we allow silence to reign, we can hear Him that much more. When silence surrounds me, then even when with people, I can recall His presence and be fully in that moment.
One week ago on Monday night, I returned home…and hit the ground running. In only three days, I was meeting with clients, recording the first episode of a new radio show, preparing for a presentation, teaching a session of Theology of the Body to college students, driving to and from another city to teach that session, and then beginning the Mardi Gras weekend on Thursday night.
If you asked me for one word to describe going from quiet time all to myself for a week in Rome and then moving into hanging out with hundreds of thousands of people at a loud party on the streets of New Orleans every night and most days, it would be this: overwhelmed.
I was (still am) so excited about parades. After all, Mardi Gras is also one of my favorite times of the year! The problem is that I was (and still totally am) also super tired. Jet lag is definitely a thing, and most of these parades happen at night. None of this, though, is some sort of problem; it’s just my reality at the present moment. If the worst problem I have to complain about is that I am tired because I’ve walked several miles to get back to my car after a parade, then I am one blessed woman.
Because here’s the thing–we can be overwhelmed and still not be crushed or broken or even sad. We can be overwhelmed and it not necessarily be a bad thing. Sometimes we are just overwhelmed with the good. I am not saying that I always realize this as it is happening. But as I have worked to practice gratitude, it opens my eyes to the blessings all around. Practicing gratitude is prayer, so it’s like any workout of my body. To build muscle memory, I must practice. I must repeat what I know to be true, even when I don’t feel it.
As I practice gratitude, I can see even through my exhaustion that God desires life for me in abundance.
So here is where I can more clearly explain how Mardi Gras seems to be a microcosm of my life. Mardi Gras involves different parades filled with beautiful floats being driven (or paraded) down streets lined with spectators. Those on the floats throw plastic beads, food, toys, stuffed animals, etc. We wave our hands excitedly and plead for throws. We play music and dance and laugh. Confetti floats down, and strangers become friends.
Joie de vivre–This is a French phrase I grew up knowing in New Orleans because of its roots in French culture and because of the spirit of New Orleans. It means the “joy of life” or the “joy of living.” Wikipedia shares that “joie de vivre may be seen as a joy of everything, a comprehensive joy, a philosophy of life.”
…a philosophy of life, y’all.
That is what I am talking about. I want my philosophy of life to be JOY!
Even at a loud Mardi Gras parade, God is present and speaking to me. I was standing at one of the biggest parades of the season two nights ago, super jet lagged and envisioning the long walk ahead of me to the car. I realized that I was totally tempted to a sort of ingratitude. I was tempted to wish I was somewhere else instead of being right where I was. I’m not saying that this is bad; in fact, I needed to acknowledge the reality of my exhaustion in order to keep moving. I was standing there and longingly remembering my quiet evening in a hidden Church in Rome just one week ago. I was wrestling with lots of things hidden in my heart, and there was a certain sadness because of these burdens that few people know about. Everyone has these things they are carrying, and at a parade, like in life, you can randomly recall those things and be overwhelmed by them.
So yes, I was literally at a parade and crying out to God in my heart to provide for me. I longed to hear His voice, but it was too loud. Y’all, then He spoke!!!
No, God doesn’t speak in an audible voice to me, but He moves in my heart to make me aware of Truth accompanied by an abiding peace. God made me aware of the reality that I can be at a loud party like a parade and STILL HEAR HIM!
No matter where I am in the world I am always home because He always abides in me–if I let Him. It’s one thing for me to know that and trust that in the silence; it’s another to know that and trust that when surrounded by thousands of people with music blaring.
But this IS what He desires for us. This IS what He calls us to. Yes, we must run to the silence and learn how to hear His voice. But then, we must go out and live our lives and be open to hearing Him even in the midst of the noise. He is there, too, desiring to give us joy.
Here is the other part of the analogy, one that applies to all of us. For the big parades, there are about 30-40 floats. It alternates with a float and then a marching band or a dance group. In other words, we beg for stuff and then we dance. Beg and dance. Beg and dance.
Standing there, it hit me! …just like the pack of beads that hit me in the head a few nights ago when I wasn’t paying attention. Jesus threw out grace to me to help me remember Truth! …truth is that Jesus desires us to beg and dance.
Jesus desires us to beg from Him for every good gift.
Jesus desires us to dance like a child who trusts in his father and who delights in play. When a child dances, he wiggles and bounces and has movements all his own. He delights in movement. It’s like his body is expressing what at times, his words cannot even yet say!
…and that is joy. Joy of life!
Both experiences of my life these last two weeks are gifts. To believe that Jesus can only speak to me when I sit in a quiet Church in Rome would be to limit Him. Yes, that quiet Church is what prepares me to hear him at this loud party, but to claim He is absent from these Mardi Gras festivities is to deny His power. Christ ate with the tax collectors and the prostitutes and the sinners. He ate with them because He wanted to be present to them. He ate with them because His presence before His words showed them what it really means to party, what it really means to live joy in such a way that I become more of myself, not less.
I do not need to be afraid of Mardi Gras, for there is no darkness so dark that God cannot penetrate. Even though there are parts of Mardi Gras that can be dark because of the free choice of people, not all of Mardi Gras is darkness. Much of Mardi Gras is light! …the light shining brightly within those who choose for Him. For life. For authenticity. For joy. How dare us limit God and say that He cannot be present at Mardi Gras! He is all around me at Mardi Gras. …and He is within me at Mardi Gras.
While at a parade, a friend randomly shared with me a homily he heard last year. This priest said that we do Mardi Gras because we know how to live, and we do Ash Wednesday because we know how to die.
Living fully as a Catholic means that I live seasons of life. Living fully means that I have times both of feasting and fasting. If I only have one or the other, then I am sick.
We need the both/and!
My feasting is a gift; my fasting is a gift. I can only truly feast when I know how to fast. I can only fully live joy when I know what it means to suffer. Suffering carves out a space so deep that even more joy can be received. I become thankful when I realize my own lack without Him.
Joy does not mean that my life is perfect or that I have it all together or that I am fully rested and feeling totally healthy all the time. Joy means that I am fully open to reality as it is: to the present moment and the gifts still given, despite the burdens I am carrying.
So why do we do Mardi Gras? We do Mardi Gras because Mardi Gras invites me to the reality that life is about living.
Mardi Gras is about the people.
Mardi Gras is about learning how to be like a child and realize that I, too, am only able to be present to this very moment, and I don’t want to let it pass me by without asking–begging–for the best of graces to be thrown to me.
So beg and dance, people. Like I shared in a past post, my favorite part about Mardi Gras is dancing in the streets when a parade breaks down for a bit. We just dance and laugh and play. In life, this is what it means for us to live.
The parade of life is passing me by, but I get to choose if I want to participate in it. I get to choose if I want to both feast and fast. I get to choose if I want to beg and dance.
I choose to dance. And I hope that you’ll join me.