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.

ashes to ashes

"Penance" via Flickr user Sarah Korf under a Creative Commons License.

Today is Ash Wednesday. And while this may sound morbid, it’s the beginning of one of my favorite parts of the liturgical year. Yes, I grew up Presbyterian. We like words like liturgical.

While many see the church’s liturgical calendar as stale, dry, ritual, I see it as life-affirming rhythm. The church’s acknowledgment that life has its ebbs and flows.  That to everything there is a season.

Lent is a time to “memento mori,” which is Latin for “remember you will die.” We talk about ashes to ashes and wear ashen crosses on our foreheads. For folks like me, prone to existential crises in the middle of the night, it’s a time to acknowledge one of our deepest, darkest fears: death. To name it, to acknowledge it, and to use it as a springboard for celebrating the God who conquers death and wipes away tears. But before we get to that point of celebration, we have to go through the valley of the shadow of death. We have to meditate on our mortality, our brokennes, and even broader, the earth’s mortality and brokenness. We have to find and name the cracks and fissures, so that we can allow those cracks and fissures to be filled with the love of the God of Resurrection and Renewal and Things Made Whole.

This is why we’re supposed to fast and take on new practices in Lent. Not just because we need to get rid of habits and practices that are bad for us, though all the healthy eating people try to do this time of year can never be a bad thing, but because we need to make space for meditation, time with God, time to examine ourselves and our environments. We need to get rid of the things that we use to distract us from our brokenness and mortality. We need to focus on things that do not fade. For this reason, giving something up is not the point of Lent if we’re just giving up something to give it up. The intention is to give up something in order to make space for something else, something that will bring us closer to God, or make us healthier, spiritually or physically.

This year, I am making space to read through the gospels, so that I might come to better know Jesus. I am also making space to take walks with my dogs. I hope to use this time to enjoy God’s creation and spend time with God. I hope this time will be a time of prayer and communion that will bring a bit of peace into my life.

I’d like to close by sharing a piece of T.S. Eliot’s “Ash Wednesday” which is a beautiful meditation for this day (read the whole poem here):

Blessèd sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit
of the garden,
Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks
Sister, mother
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated

And let my cry come unto Thee.

Do you observe Lent? How are you observing it this year?

Update:

I just got my daily Verse/Voice email from Sojourners and was inspired to share this verse:

Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD? Is this not the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter– when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break free like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. –Isaiah 58:5-9 (TNIV)”