i hope you have been preparing for the lenten season with me! i’ve spent quite a bit of time reflecting on & journaling about the questions posed by rachel held evans last year regarding lent. [she has a new post for lent this year that includes ideas for children & families.] i thought i might share with you the questions i pondered & my thoughts in part on them.
what spiritual discipline do i need to improve in or want to try?
fasting, hands down.
why am i giving this particular thing up? how does giving it up draw me closer to God & prepare me for easter?
is it necessary/helpful for me to share the nature of my fast with others or keep it private?
i want to share something i’m doing that you can do, too — 40 days of water. this is a way to tie our personal spirituality to communal justice. you can join me & hundreds of others who are giving up all beverages except tap water [& in my case, occasionally a tea bag thrown into a mug of hot tap water!] for the lenten season in an effort to raise money for digging wells that provide clean drinking water to people in uganda. you track the beverages you would have drank [drunk?] each day & the money you saved in not doing so. each sunday [feast day, in which you get to drink whatever you want again], you donate your saved money to blood:water mission. i think this is a beautiful way of remembering what Christ came to live & die for — all people — to bring to earth love, reconciliation, abundant life, freedom, truth, & justice. you can find more information & join the throngs here.
having not grown up in a church that practiced lent, i don’t know what the ashes actually symbolize. i’m tempted to look it up, but i thought it might be better to record my thoughts first. ashes remind me of the legend of the phoenix – the mythical bird that dies in a burst of flames & is reborn from the ashes. it recalls to me the refining fire of God, in which He burns up all that is impure in me. then, i am created a new creature with a new heart, ever more in His image. “imago Dei — who i am & am becoming.” baptism represents much the same idea, but i think of a continual cleansing so that i live the resurrected life, even here & now. from the ashes, through baptism, i am in the present & powerful kingdom of God here on earth.
i have since researched lent & ash wednesday more, & i have learned that the ashes [which in the catholic church are from the burning of the palm leaves from the previous year’s palm sunday] represent our mortality — “for dust you are and to dust you will return” [gen. 3:19] — & the act of mourning over our sinfulness — in the spirit of sackcloth & ashes often mentioned in the bible in association with mourning. i think this is beautiful symbolism, & so i have also chosen to dress simply & in black today. it’s a far cry from sack cloth, but it is a visible reminder to me all day to be mindful of my need for repentance & God’s grace.
and then we can’t forget the actual ashes! i thought about attending a catholic ash wednesday mass today, but i decided to keep with a little tradition of my own instead. you may think it’s sacrilegious, so i’m asking you ahead of time for your grace & understanding as i explain this little ritual.
in past years, i’ve explored 12 classic spiritual disciplines throughout the year [with the guidance of richard foster’s celebration of discipline], & each year, i [theoretically] spend one month focused on confession. [please don’t be impressed — i’m far from consistent in how i practice these disciplines & am a poster child for failure.] one ritual i’ve come to establish & enjoy during that month is the writing out of my sins each day, then burning the piece of paper to symbolize how God blots out my transgressions. i used to do this in my fireplace, but one day when i was perusing my local thrift store, i found a beat up copper basin that i decided to use for this daily confessional. it’s been such a horrifying eye-opener to spend time trying to remember all the ways i messed up in a day. and while it’s been painful, it has been good. i’ve come to practice it long beyond the month i spend focusing on confession, although i haven’t been very consistent in it until this year. as part of the prayer liturgy i’m using, evening prayers include a time for confession, so i’ve been a little better about practicing the listing & burning on a daily basis.
today, i spent time reading the account of Jesus’ baptism & subsequent 40 days in the wilderness from matthew 3 – 4:11 & one of the penitential psalms, psalm 51.
then i listed alot of sins…
and i burned them while rereading psalm 51.
it’s no catholic mass, but it has meaning to me!
then, [& here’s the potentially sacrilegious part], i used the ashes from the past year as the mark of the cross for my forehead. because while i think it’s really neat to use last year’s palm leaves for ashes, those don’t have a particularly personal meaning to me. the ashes in my coppen basin do… they are a visible reminder of every sin i’ve confessed that God has wiped away, a symbol of His mercies, which are indeed new every morning.
may God bless you as you remember, repent, & return on this ash wednesday!