ash wednesday

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the liturgical season of Lent. I like Lent, if that can even be said. It deeply suits a morbid, doubting place in my soul, and knowing that the church has made space for such a season in the church calendar reminds me that this part of me is not contrary to my faith, but part of it. Sometimes I find myself envious of those for whom faith comes easy, who are quick to count blessings, who feel God’s presence regularly, who don’t feel like they’re talking to the ceiling when they pray. While I am richly blessed, while I find much joy in my family, friends, and daily life, faith still does not come easy to me. If on Ash Wednesday, most Christians are remembering that they come from ashes and to ashes they will return, then for part of me, it is always Ash Wednesday. Especially after my near death experience, I just can’t NOT be aware of the reality of death and loss.

I need Lent to remind me that not only are these thoughts just part of the package, they propel me for a reason. I need Lent to teach me that this Christian journey isn’t about how much or how deeply I believe, or how hard I try, or how strictly I can keep the fast. I need Lent to show me just how desperately I need Easter, a new day dawning to look forward to. I need Lent to remind me that I’m not apart from the faith, but still in the thick of it, even as like an apostle I pray, “Lord I believe, please help my unbelief.”

And so, I will fast. This year, I’m abstaining from meat. Last year’s failed attempt at a vegan fast definitely showed me the limits of what I can do on my own, and inspired me to take a smaller step this year. Last year I failed in my fast– but that’s kind of the point of the fast anyway, to show us our own limits and failings and to teach us to rely on the abundant Grace of God. This year, aware of my failings, I’m trying again. I am sure I will still need grace. I know it. I feel it. The need rises from me like smoke from ashes.

This year, my prayer is well summed up by T.S. Eliot in “Ash Wednesday:” “pray to God to have mercy upon us / And pray that I may forget / These matters that with myself I too much discuss.” And for you, if you observe Lent, I pray for a meaningful season as you journey through the dark, always heading toward the light.

*Image on this post is via the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, via Flickr, under a Creative Commons License.

6 Replies to “ash wednesday”

  1. One of my best Lenten celebrations was the year that I chose not to give something up, up to add something in my celebration of my faith. By Easter I felt much more strength in my relationship with the Holy Spirit. I agree that one cannot ignore the existence of death in our lives, and since my brush with that reality have chosen to try to always live my life as if today might be my last day on the Earth. But I also believe there is so much beauty in people (in their lives and deaths), that I cannot help but feel joy in getting to experience so much and meet so many on my journey.


  2. This post is what I needed today. “Lord I believe, help me in my unbelief” is probably my most frequent prayer. I too am jealous of those who find faith easy, of those who find ways to feel their faith strengthened instead of weakened by difficulties. I myself am weak and my questions are many. Still, observing Lent, going through the motions, is what brings me back to my faith. Ritual is savng for me and, when it comes to faith, I often feel that my actions come before my feelings.

    In the Orthodox Church we always fast from meat and dairy products (vegan is tough!) but I think the spirit of the law is more important than the letter when it comes to Lent. We do our best.


    1. ME: I deeply appreciate how tradition keeps us tied to faith even when we don’t feel it. From Flannery O’Connor: “The things that we are obliged to do, such as hear Mass on Sunday, fast and abstain on the days appointed, etc. can become mechanical and merely habit. But it is better to be held to the Church by habit than not be held at all. The Church is mighty realistic about human nature.” Thank God.


  3. Yes, we are “still in the thick of it!” I am grateful for the many who have walked this path before me, and those who continue to do so together with me. Thank you for your honest and beautiful post. Thank you for the reminder of the importance of small steps. I often get discouraged when I try to leap ahead instead of those small steps.


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