Ash Wednesday! There were no lessons at my school today. We have a whole school retreat to mark the start of the season of Lent, our preparation for Easter. As is traditional, prayer, fasting and almsgiving or 'good works' were our focus. Students came in their own clothes. We began with the liturgy of the Word, led by students, and the distribution of ashes, marking our resolve to be more faithful to the Gospel. The ashes were distributed to the school by Eucharistic Ministers in the Sixth Form, and by some staff. I was 'ashed' by a member of the RE department, the Head Teacher by one of my Sixth Form students. This was the first time I have ever seen ashes distributed by the laity, and it was quite an emotional experience to see a whole community turn to each other and seek 'the Good life' in this way. Schools are hierarchical places, but in this moment, everyone stood equal. We were all in the same boat. Afterwards there were many workshops, led by staff and students, which helped the school to focus on the message of the readings and make some resolutions about how we, as a community, were going to live our Lent, becoming again the people God means us to be.
At lunch, homemade soup and bread had been prepared by some of the Sixth Form and the Deputy Head Teachers, so we all stood around and sipped hot cups of delicious goodness. There was Potato and Leek, or Carrot and Coriander. Sometimes, fast days are great. :-)
We came back together at the end of the day and celebrated the liturgy of the Eucharist, God's real presence in our lives. Again, this was a first. I have never seen Mass 'split' in this way. It was quite powerful, the retreat becoming an extended reflection upon the readings, and time to really think about the message we were being called to take on board. I am grateful for today. We had fun. I laughed a lot and took the time to talk to many people, staff and students, I might not usually have the chance to sit down and chat to. I also had the opportunity to work out for myself, and with students and colleagues, what Lent is about and how we can walk through it together, with God and each other, to prepare for Easter.
Now, it is almost tea time and I am getting hungry, so here is more food for a fast day :-)
You are going to have to trust me on this recipe. It is ideal for today, it looks penitential, but it tastes great. The ingredients are: spaghetti, water, salt, butter and cheese. That's it. For four people, I would use about 350g - 400g of spaghetti, and 4 tablespoons of butter, and about 10 - 15g peppercorns, coarse ground. It goes like this:
Take a large pan of water and salt it heavily, bring it to the boil. Grind your peppercorns up - you can use a pestle and mortar, or a coffee grinder, or a blender. In a heavy based pan or skillet heat the peppercorns gently so that their essential oils are released and you can smell them. Delicious! Add the spaghetti to the boiling water and allow it to cook according to the instructions. Take a ladle or so of the boiling pasta water and pour it onto the peppercorns. Then, stir in the butter to make a sauce. When the pasta is cooked, drain it and bring the whole lot together with the grated cheese (I use a mixture of pecorino and Grana Padano). You could add a sprig of parsley to serve. I promise that the end result looks great, and that the pasta is all coated with a beautiful creamy butter sauce, and there is real fire from the peppercorns. It is bliss....and obviously very penitential and appropriate and all that.