Love me some Lent

March 18th, 2022


(as published in The Daily Memphian, March 11, 2022)

(photo: The salad plate at The Calvary Waffle Shop)

The Rev. Martin Smith was the guest preacher in our pulpit at Grace-St. Luke’s Episcopal Church right before Lent began and he got my attention. Instead of a dark message of penitence and sacrifice he offered another perspective.

Perhaps we should consider reflection during Lent, instead of giving up, say, gin and tonics for 40 days. Perhaps we should concentrate on the positive aspects of our lives and what they mean to us, instead of, say, dwelling on our sins.

Perhaps that wasn’t his message, but that’s what I heard, so I’m going with it.

I’m looking forward to the return of Lent. To returning to table with friends and meeting new ones. To the return of the bustle of shared space and conversation. To the return of inspiration followed by breaking bread, actually cornbread.

To the return of the Word and waffles Downtown.

From the Book of Daniel (me, not the one in the Lion’s Den) a Lenten Lesson:

The Episcopal Church, with ancient roots in early Christianity, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Anglican Church, has many arcane names and traditions in its liturgy derived from the many languages and practices of its long history.

For instance, we call where the people sit in the church the nave, derived from the Latin navis or boat, symbolic of life as a voyage from birth to death with God as the captain.

For another, the traditional Episcopal Church is built in the shape of a cross and the arms of the cross on the sides of the nave are called transepts from the Latin trans and septum or cross separation.

See what I mean? Arcane.

So, this being the beginning of Lent – and thus, praise be, the beginning of the Calvary Waffle Shop – I thought I would explain once again some of the terms and things peculiar to these 40 days. 

Waffle: from the Old English whoa•full, mentioned by Chaucer, “whan that whoafull bathed in swich syrup hath fille me thru.”

Sausage: from the Latin sassius pigius pattius.

Fish Pudding: inspired by the fishes and loaves miracle, one serving will feed a multitude, and unlike the biblical version, this one comes with homemade tartar sauce.

Tomato Aspic: from the Latin tomat est wiggly.

Shrimp Mousse: from Latin crustacia est wiggly.

Chicken Salad: English translation of the French word mayonnaise (see also Salad Plate).

Chicken Hash: variation of the Middle English expression “riche as Croesus” (see also the following desserts).

Boston Cream Pie: charming euphemism for cocktail, ether sherry or rum, topped with whipped cream (see also Tennessee Bourbon Pie and Chocolate Bourbon Cake).

Peanut Butter Pie: substitute “pie” for “and jelly” and you’ll never go back.

Turnip Greens, Pork Belly, and Cornbread: referred to in the Old Testament as manna (see also Chicken Noodle Soup, Vegetable Soup, and Corned Beef and Cabbage).

Seafood Gumbo: should you wonder if it has okra, gumbo is actually from the Angolan word “kingombo” meaning okra, and, no, I didn’t make that one up.

Spaghetti and Rye Bread: ancient meal symbolic of when the Romans and the Huns decided to start getting along.

All of the above are confined to Lent as interpreted by the Waffle Shop in Calvary Episcopal Church in Downtown Memphis – a guilty indulgence in a time of penitence. Homemade mayonnaise in a time of sacrifice.

The Episcopal Church is nothing if not forgiving.

Up in the church – the aforementioned nave – famed preachers mount the pulpit for the Calvary Lenten Speakers Series. Down in the basement – the aforementioned Waffle Shop – the comforting liturgy flows from the kitchen and its rich tradition is shared at table. Would-be kings, queens, and heirs apparent to our commerce, politics and jurisprudence sit elbow-to-elbow with our hoi polloi, with our characters, legends, and pretenders all in common praise of greased, salted, sugared, and floured conversation.

It’s not strictly kosher, but it’s not strictly ecumenical either.

From that pulpit one Lent, I heard Rabbi Micah Greenstein say, “When you see me in heaven, I won’t mind if you’re surprised – I just hope you won’t be disappointed.”

So, to paraphrase, come on down – you might be surprised, but you will not be disappointed. Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, 11a.m.–1:30 p.m.

I’m a Memphian, and as Episcopalians say, here endeth the lesson.


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