[a different calendar] ASH WEDNESDAY

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.

when i wake up on resurrection sunday morning, how will i be different?

i want to be acutely mindful of the real experiences Christ endured as He went to the cross & died for me. i will be desperate for the celebration of His resurrection & the hope it brings me for new life in Him. 
 

is there a habit or sin in my life that repeatedly gets in the way of loving God with my whole heart or loving my neighbor as myself? how do i address that habit over the next 40 days?
 
 

is there anyone in my life from whom i need to ask forgiveness or pursue reconciliation?
 
what practical steps can i take to carve out time each day for contemplation?
i use a prayer liturgy for morning, midday, & evening prayers [common prayer for ordinary radicals]. i have not been good about stopping for midday prayers, so i’ve got my locket with the liturgy tucked inside back around my neck, & it will be my constant accessory these next 40+ days.

what spiritual discipline do i need to improve in or want to try?
fasting, hands down.

what are some things in my life that i tell myself i need but don’t? can i give one or two of them up for 40 days?
stuff. just lots of stuff. i’m going to take advantage of this season of remembrance, repentance, & return to God to declutter not just my spirit but also my surroundings. i hope to donate much of what i get rid or to sell some items & donate the money to those in need somehow. i hope i have the courage to give up many things that i want to keep…

why am i giving this particular thing up? how does giving it up draw me closer to God & prepare me for easter?

i’m giving up things i already own to rid myself of the weight that ties me to this temporal world. i believe it will draw me closer to God by showing me in very visible & tangible ways that He is all i really need. my spirit can become lighter from worldly concerns while it experiences the heaviness of the spiritual realities that are the passion. and when easter comes, my spirit can be buoyant in every way!
what am i going to tell myself when self-denial gets hard?

i thought a memory verse would be appropriate. i’m on the siesta scripture memory team with living proof ministries this year, so my next verse [for february 15th] will be 2 corinthians 9:8 [ceb] — God has the power to provide you with more than enough of every kind of grace. that way, you will have everything you need always and in everything to provide more than enough for every kind of good work. 




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.

what do the ashes mean to me this year? what does baptism mean to me this year?

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!

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