Today is Ash Wednesday in the Christian liturgical year. The first day of Lent. Lent, which comes from the English word lenten, meaning "spring," referring to the season and to the rejuvenation of the soul, is a period of 40 days leading to Easter. (Counting Sundays, there are actually 46 days.)
I have not attended an Ash Wednesday service for many years, but because I have been exploring the idea of intentions this year, it seems natural to think about spiritual disciplines during Lent.
As a child, I recall hearing friends talk about giving up candy or sugar or tv or another routine pleasure, but that wasn't something we did in my family. I was raised Lutheran and even though Lutheran churches seem to now practice the imposition of ashes, I don't remember the ritual being part of Ash Wednesday services of my youth. We went to church and confessed our sins, and it was all very solemn, but only in church. Nothing changed in my daily routine. Perhaps my parents prayed more or read the Bible more, but my life moved on steadily toward Good Friday and the prettiness of Easter. I became a convert to Lent in later years. And then I lapsed, which brings me to today.
Sitting in an unfamiliar church, I heard the words, "I invite you to the discipline of Lent," and I processed up the center aisle to a pastor I don't know and as he said the words, "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return," he made the sign of the cross on my forehead with soft ash. I have ashes smeared on my forehead, but am I ready to enter Lent and what exactly does that mean anyway?
This morning I gathered a stack of books from my library to help illuminate what this Lent might hold for me.
A Benedictine monk, Brother Victor-Antoine D'Avila-Latourrette gave me some practical direction in A Monastic Year, Reflections from the Monastery as he outlines the principles of Lenten practice found in the Rule of St Benedict: refrain from sin, pray sincerely, read the scriptures, repent and repent, and fast. Daunting!
Joyce Rupp in her book Inviting God In, Scriptural Reflections and Prayers Throughout the Year, quotes from the Hebrew Testament, "Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing." Joel 2:13. I like her term "re-turning" and wonder what the implication might be for me. She says "...there is always a part of one's heart that has not yet been given over to God..." Perhaps my Lenten discipline is to probe the ways I have not surrendered.
"Outward Bound for the soul," is Barbara Brown Taylor's term to describe Lent. "Forty days to remember what it is like to live by the grace of God alone and not by what we can supply for ourselves." ("Lenten Discipline" in Home By Another Way)
Finally, I read these words in In Wisdom's Path, Discovering the Sacred in Every Season, by Jan L. Richardson: "The season begins with ashes and invites us into a time of stripping away all that distracts us from recognizing the God who dwells at our core, reminding us that we are ashes and dust. God beckons us during Lent to consider what is elemental and essential in our lives."
The Task of Aging
Lent is a sacred time for Christians, but the invitation to know and live one's essence knows no religious or spiritual boundaries. In fact, this is the main task of the wisdom time of aging. I will do my best to accept this invitation. If not now, when?
An Invitation to Comment
What have you given up for Lent now or in the past? Or what spiritual practice or discipline have you added to your life during a Lenten season?
OR if Lent has not been part of your tradition have there been times in your life when you deliberately eliminated a habit that interfered with your relationship with God? I would love to know.