Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ash Wednesday

From the United Methodist Book of Worship:
The following or similar words may be spoken:
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:
the early Christians observed with great devotion
the days of our Lord's passion and resurrection,
and it became the custom of the Church that before the Easter
there should be a forty–day season of spiritual preparation.
During this season converts to the faith were prepared for Holy
It was also a time when persons who had committed serious sins
and had separated themselves from the community of faith
were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness,
and restored to participation in the life of the Church.
In this way the whole congregation was reminded
of the mercy and forgiveness proclaimed in the gospel of
Jesus Christ
and the need we all have to renew our faith.
I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church,
to observe a holy Lent:
by self–examination and repentance;
by prayer, fasting, and self–denial;
and by reading and meditating on God's Holy Word.
To make a right beginning of repentance,
and as a mark of our mortal nature,
let us now kneel (bow) before our Creator and Redeemer.

Lent in general and Ash Wednesday in particular provoke a lot of questions for me. What exactly are we called to do in observing a holy Lent? Is this a penitential season? What good does it do me to give something up? What is it supposed to connect me to--fellow sufferers? the suffering of Christ?
And yet I find Ash Wednesday services to be deeply moving. To some extent, I think they appear to my inner mystic because they are symbol laden: purple clothes and ashes for morning. And they appeal to me, too, because I'm fascinated by all the places we find paradoxical in our faith, and Lent certainly feeds that. We mourn, sort of, but not on Sundays, and not real seriously, and we're just as likely to give up Starbucks and pocket the savings as we are to give up something really important, like chocolate. And then there's the newer practice of adding a discipline for Lent. I can't decide how I feel about that--on the one hand, it's appropriately "spiritual" to add some new means to reflecting on Christ. On the other, can't that be self-serving?
I guess what I'm saying is that I find most Lenten practices I've heard of to be subject to abuse, or at least an opportunity for some spiritual arrogance. But aren't I doing the same thing?
So this is my own Lenten discipline: to blog my way through Lent, engaging with my questions and concerns about the season. Since my posting history has been weak for a while, I'm aiming for 4 posts a week that genuinely reflect my thinking about the season and my own spiritual life.
We'll see how it goes.
I hope this will result in some spiritual de-cluttering. Along the way, I'll do some de-cluttering in real life, and I may or may not reflect on that here. And maybe I'll go back to regular blogging, too.

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