Ash Wednesday began and ended unceremoniously, for me. Working at 7:30 in the morning meant I couldn’t attend a church service, get ashes smeared across my forehead and have my pastor tell me, “You are going to die.” Those wouldn’t be his exact words, but that would have been the gist. I did, however, allow a Catholic co-worker sneak off to mass so that she could fulfill her sacred duty and return to work–a dirty-faced-evangelist bearing witness to the cross. I always love the solemnity of an Ash Wednesday service and the way it marks time. In remembering our dying (and our baptism) we walk the road to Calvary with Christ. This is a time of reflection and preparation for the events of Holy Week–Christ’s death and glorious resurrection.
It is also a time of purgation. After Jesus was baptized, he was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted (Matt 4:1). For forty days Jesus fasted and the accuser tempted him to abandon God’s plan. Like Jesus we too fast, identifying with Him in his temptation. So we walk with Jesus through our own wildernesses as we fast and we walk with Jesus in his suffering, to the cross.
My own Lenten practice is as follows:
1. I have vowed to give up meat (with the exception of fish once a week). My six-year-old asked me why we don’t eat meat in Lent. I told her it was the season of mortification of the flesh and if you are mortifying the flesh, you don’t even want to chew it. She thought I was making that up.
Actually I have done this a couple of times before where I have intentionally thought about practices around food and agriculture through Lent. This year my question is, ‘where do I go for nourishment?” The thing about meat (rather than giving up sweets and chocolate) is that meat fills you up and makes you feel full. To give up what feels most ‘nourishing’ is a profound way to refocus our attention on God as the one who feeds and nourishes.
2. I am reading through God For Us as my daily devotional through Lent and the accompanying daily Bible readings. This is a really great devotional for exploring Lent for the wider Christian tradition (the contributors are from Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox backgrounds). I may reflect some on this book here
3. I am praying about where I need to return to dust and ashes. Part of receiving the imposition of the ashes and contemplate your own mortality is to understand that we are powerless in the face of eternity. We can’t make things happen. To say: “From dust I come, to dust I will return,” is to cease striving and to wait. Ceasing to strive in one area may just be where God wants to break in with new life. Unless a seed falls to the ground and dies, it remains a single seed. But if it dies it produces many seeds. (John 12:24)
4. Last year I decided to blog the seven penitential psalms which were used in confession by the medieval church. I only got three psalms into my plan, so I plan to finish them up this year.
A Facebook friend asked me if she needed to give up anything for Lent. I told her that the only point to giving something up is to whet your appetite for God and to hunger after Him, but you get no gold stars for heroic sacrifices. I am trying to be gentle with myself for Lent. I toyed with giving up coffee (because I would appreciate the resurrection more if I felt like death for six weeks). But this morning I poured myself a cup of coffee before heading out the door to work. I did think it was inappropriate to curb my appetite through caffeine, so I gave up the second cup of coffee (and third, forth, etc).
What are you doing for Lent? What are your hopes for this season?