This week, on Ash Wednesday, I will begin, along with the wider church, a new season of Lent. A season, as the Book of Alternative Services puts it, of “self-examination, penitence, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.”
The Ash Wednesday service is a meaningful one, as the Celebrant calls us to reflect and begin to prepare our hearts for the Easter season. It is an invocation–an invitation to begin an annual pilgrimage towards Golgotha and the pinnacle of the Christian faith.
…every year at the time of the Christian Passover we celebrate our redemption through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Lent is a time to prepare for this celebration and to renew our life in the paschal mystery. We begin this holy season by remembering our need for repentance,
and for the mercy and forgiveness proclaimed in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
We begin our journey to Easter with the sign of ashes, an ancient sign, speaking of the frailty and uncertainty of human life, and marking the penitence of the community as a whole.
I invite you therefore, in the name of the Lord, to observe a holy Lent by self-examination, penitence, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, and by reading and meditating on the word of God. (Ash Wednesday Service, BAS)
How might I observe a “holy Lent”? Will giving up chocolate invite me into the activities this liturgy is declaring? How will it invite me to mediate deeper on the word of God?
I ask this question not to belittle those who do give-up sweets, or similar loves, as Lent is first and foremost a process of self-examination. So, I ask again, how will giving up sweets invite Selina into self-examination, penitence, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving? How can I choose both to give-up and take-on activities of prayer and reflection that: 1. I can reasonable commit to without harming myself or another, and 2. will encourage me to deeper my relationship with the Gospel message and messenger?
We cannot achieve the perfect Lent, with absolute self-sacrifice and righteousness. Lent is an experiment in discipline, spiritual formation, and introspection; it is a messy process that should be felt more as an inward pilgrimage than an obstacle course to be overcome. There is no road map and no destination. We must each discern an area, a thought, or a theme God calls us to reflect on, and allow the Spirit to guide our meditations and actions as we look deeper into ourselves.
As I begin a journey towards inconvenience and stewardship, the themes of my Lent this year, I hope to share some small reflections on my own experiment. I will be giving up plastic, to the best of my abilities, in an exercise to question the value of convenience and the call of humankind to be stewards of creation. (Later on this week or next I will share about the driving force and process I will be participating in.) As well, I will be taking up a number of small activities with my family, ones that call us to love and recognize the face of God in one another. My leading thought is around the idea of “caring”–how we care for the earth and our relationships. I hope God will have surprising outcomes and interesting thesis for me to discover during these next weeks of experimentation.
Let me leave you with a final quote, which sums all of these thoughts and feelings up far better than I might ever:
“As Lent is the time for greater love, listen to Jesus’ thirst…’Repent and believe’ Jesus tells us. What are we to repent? Our indifference, our hardness of heart. What are we to believe? Jesus thirsts even now, in your heart and in the poor — He knows your weakness. He wants only your love, wants only the chance to love you.” (Mother Teresa, of Calcutta)