I have a dear friend who is a loving, generous women who is not affiliated with any religious community but whom I describe as a spiritual being. Then again, all of us are comprised of a physical, emotional and spiritual dimension, aren’t we?
She said she has never participated in Lent and she questions the need for a specific timeframe in which one gives something up. She then asked the question, “Shouldn’t it be a regular activity in one’s life – letting go of habits and attitudes that are no longer fitting?”
My friend went on to say that many people focus on giving up chocolate for instance but what about giving up really important things like the need to label things good or bad, or judging others who are different from us?
To all of this I heard myself say, “YES, YES, YES!”
Then I heard myself say, “But, I need the practice of Lent. And what I really need is Ash Wednesday!”
I enter the candlelit sanctuary within my faith community on this solemn evening as a pilgrim on this Lenten journey, joining a history of believers that has spanned thousands of years.
For Christians, this service marks the beginning – 40 days (not including Sundays) before Easter. Tonight, we receive the sacrament of Holy Communion and the imposition of ashes.
I am humbled as I feel the fine dusting of ash falling down on my nose and my cheeks as the sign of the cross is made on my forehead. At the same time, the pastor says the words, “From dust you came, and to dust you shall return.”
These words are powerful and hearing them allows me to reflect on deep, spirit-filled emotions such as:
- I feel small and insignificant in this vast universe, not in a self-loathing way, rather an equalizing way – becoming one with all living things in this life cycle of living and dying.
- My dust will be exactly like everyone else’s, nothing more – nothing less, and my earthly possessions, and my achievements will not go with me.
- Earth is needed for anything to grow, and my body will nurture that growth, while my spirit – the essence of my soul will be released to grow into a new life.
- The God who formed me with dust is the same God I will return to FOREVER.
- This promise has been given to me and to all believers – and there is joy in knowing that I will reunite with my deceased loved ones.
This is why I need my community of faith, other pilgrims on this journey to surround and support me these 40 days. Because we are all sinners who wander through the darkness that life presents us with, but whose HOPE lies in the promise of CHRIST, whose love and grace saves us from death.
For the next 40 days, I will try in my human way to fast from all things that will separate me from God – judgment, prejudice, racism of any kind, hatred and all other sin.
Afterwards, remembering the ashes on my forehead and strengthened by this journey with fellow Christians, I will make another inspired attempt to live in the same way – one day at a time!