Ash Wednesday

Preparing for Lent

“Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart,
    with fasting and weeping and mourning.”

Joel 2:12

“I am cru­ci­fied with Christ” — I myself in the very essence of my being, I let myself go to that death, and by the mys­te­ri­ous pow­er with which God meets faith, I find that He has made it true: the bonds are loosed and He can have His way with me. See in these wild iris-pods how the last tiny threads must be bro­ken, and with that loos­ing, all that they have is free for God’s use in His world around. All reluc­tance, all cal­cu­lat­ing, all hold­ing in is gone; the husks are opened wide, the seeds can shed them­selves unhin­dered…and sac­ri­fice is the very life-breath of love. May God shew us every with­hold­ing thread of self that needs break­ing still, and may His own touch shriv­el it into death. (Art and quote: Lilias Trotter, Parables of the Cross.)

Our lives, body, mind, soul and spirit, must be offered, not with shaking hand ready to pull back at inconvenience or threat of obscurity, but freely, pierced, broken, wide open in release of who we are, what we have, and what we hope to be in this life.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

The rhythm of life and death is painted on the horizon before us each day in the rising and setting of the sun, on the face of the fragility and mortality of human life, and in the bloom of the flowers that in the folding and dying release the seed of new life. 

My ordinary life rhythms also become sacred as I wake up in darkness to watch the rising sun, offering my hopes and dreams for the day in the silence of presence.  Living the day with pauses in the rush and the routine to breathe a prayer: “When I am anxious, I put my trust in you, O Lord.” And in the night, the examen of my day, remembering with gratitude, letting go of the disappointments, the wrongs said and done, and receiving much needed forgiveness and grace as I lay down the day in peace and rest.

READ. Spend some time with the Ash Wednesday readings: Isaiah 58:1-12; Psalm 51:1-17; Matthew 6:1-6,16-21. Sit with each passage and listen for a word from the Spirit for your observance of Lent.

PRACTICE. Consider a form of fasting and try it for a day, then commit to a full week, or the full 40 days of Lent. If you’ve never practiced fasting before, here are some possibilities to start with:

  • Fast one meal or one full day a week such as Wednesday or Friday. You can also begin a fast after dinner, then fast until dinner the next day. Use the time to read the Gospel accounts of Jesus in the wilderness, praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, or the crucifixion of Christ.
  • Abstain from media or entertainment including cell phone, TV, streaming video, radio, music, email, computers, video games. Try one hour a day or one full day a week. Use the silence for a time of solitude, meditation, a walk in nature, or spending quality time with loved ones.
  • Abstain from spending, buying morning coffee, eating out, or other consuming habits. Instead, be generous with your time or money.

Is not this 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?

Isaiah 58:6-7

RESOURCES. Fasting: Spiritual Freedom Beyond Our Appetites, Lynne M. Baab

Soul Feast, An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life, Marjorie J. Thompson, chapter 5.

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