[For those in Philadelphia: the liberti church that meets in the Fishtown neighborhood is having an Ash Wednesday service tonight at 7:30. For those in Center City, I will be going to a 6pm service at the Church of the Holy Trinity right on Rittenhouse park. I hope to see you there.]
It’s Ash Wednesday!
(Here’s the prayer for this Holy Day that millions of Christians around the world are praying today–feel free to join them.)
Lent really is my favorite time of year. And Ash Wednesday is particularly special. We spend these weeks meditating on those ways in which we need God the most, and he meets us in it. As we lead up to the celebration of God dying and rising again, we meditate upon those reasons why he needed to come and do it in the first place–namely, that this world is not what it will be, and God took it in his hands to accomplish what was needed to get us there.
This is a time of tension. This season never fails to be a time in which God very much meets me and I taste his presence, albeit it is (as the Eastern Orthodox call it) a “bright sadness”. We delve deeper and deeper into the chasm of our hearts, turning the volume up on all those dark whispers and haunting soul-addictions that warp the purpose and image of God within us; those whispers that we spend the rest of the year trying to drown out, quiet, and generally numb ourselves to.
This is a time of disciplines. As I’ve participated in Lent, I’ve begun to think that this is not only because there is much grace to be found within these disciplines, but because attempting discipline is the fastest way to feel your weakness. Everything seems so manageable until you’re at the time you need to follow through; to abstain from that which you now want more than ever, or try to do that which you seem to now hate most at this moment.
This is a time of justice. But the fullness of that biblical idea is far more than our modern, watered-down definition of “justice” as “wrath”. “God is just” does not mean “God punishes.” The truly biblical definition of “justice” is “to make right”, to bring the scales back to evenness, and to put aright that which was broken or out of joint. God’s Justice is always restorative in the bible and not simply destructive.
And so, the Christian Church, in meditating upon God’s justice during Lent has put upon its adherents disciplines in three categories. Here they are and how I plan to practice these things during Lent:
Prayer: justice towards God: re-connecting that which is most important
- being faithful to follow my church‘s Lent & Easter Prayerbook
- journaling my daily prayers
- continuing in a chronological reading plan I have for the Bible
- being faithful in my Lenten blog series meditating on Christ as “the lamb slain before the foundations of the world”
- writing new poetry in anticipation of Holy Week (read last year’s poetry)
Almsgiving/Charity: justice towards neighbor: exalting that which is lowly
- doubling my tithe and offering to my church
- every weekday giving at least a small amount of money to some charity, cause, or organization
- serving at my church’s homeless ministry regularly
- being faithful in listening through Dave Ramsey’s financial course with others in my neighborhood, so I can learn how to be able to give more sacrificially in the long-term (that may sound silly, but whatever. It’s a real conviction of mine)
Fasting: justice towards self: humbling that which exalts itself
- following the ancient Church tradition of fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday
- following the other ancient tradition of not eating meat on Fridays
- not eating any sweets (this is more of a problem for me than you’d think)
Is this a lot? Yes. Will I fail in many or most (or perhaps all) of these things? Probably. Is God still gracious to me in that? Yes.
In October 2007, I had (what in hindsight I’ve realized was) a spiritual nervous breakdown. In a lot of ways, I’m still recovering from it. During that time, I wrote the prose piece that on the “Author” page of this site. Lent always reminds me of this piece, and especially the final lines. I’ll leave you with those lines:
Let my soul take flight! Rise me into Thy Love!
Faster. Faster! Make me only Thine! I need it!
I must! I lust, covet, and gluttonously gorge myself upon
the Grace I so desperately need desperately. . .
And even with that, I end this now, not having said
what I wanted to say – what I needed to say.
Your Grace did not come, or at least in the measure I hoped.
This burden thus stays, this wineskin won’t burst,
this angst will continue to grow.
But I know, in the quietest parts of my soul, those deep whispers
and silent voices, echoing within:
my Beloved is mine and i am His, and His Grace is at His whim,
for if it were up to me, I would not need Him,
and it’s in my need I have Him most.
May the Lord meet you and guide you in this precious and Holy time of Lent.
[image credit: fresco of “The Cruciﬁxion of Jesus” by Giotto di Bondone]