“Remember that you are dust
and to dust you shall return.”
Dear Friends in Christ,
Today the church keeps the fast of Ash Wednesday. It is the beginning the holy season of Lent, and our great preparation by penitence and fasting, for the celebration of the Resurrection at Easter. In the seasons of our liturgical year we walk through the life of Jesus. The weeks to come our readings are focused on Christ’s baptism, his tempting in the wilderness, and his progress to Jerusalem and the cross.
Lent can sometimes feel like a solo climb to the top of a great mountain; a heroic battle, all by ourselves, fighting the winds of temptation. However, this is not a very accurate picture of how we actually practice Lent. My experience tells me that keeping a Holy Lent is both personal AND communal.
I would argue that a better image is that of a group of people doing Tai Chi together, deliberately and slowly. Each one working on their own practice, knowing which part is hard for them, yet maintaining a common pattern together. The church from ancient times has known that prayer and fasting, study, charity and service are all practices that God can use to draw us into a living relationship with God’s own self.
Today, before the Imposition of Ashes, we make an important beginning together with the confession of our sins. We bring our brokenness, our willfulness, and our entitlement; we bring our human sinfulness and confess it all before Jesus. We lay down the tangled burden of pretending that we have it all together, pretending that we have no troubles, that we are blameless. Instead, we come to the blessed relief of laying it all at the foot of the cross. And we can do that with confidence because we know we have a merciful God. God is quick to hear, with a loving kindness sent the Son to dwell with us and save us.
This is our second Lent in the pandemic, and despite the start of vaccinations, isolation is rampant. I believe that the practice of prayer, especially shared prayer, may be the most important common discipline we are can take on right now. Weary, having become communally ill with our racism and polarizations (or sin-sick, to use an old-fashioned term,) we need powerful gospel medicine. Prayer, time spent seeking out and resting in the mind of God, can root that saving grace in us.
There are numerous apps to aid in prayer for our phones or tablets, and there are more traditional “applications,” such as the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer. There are groups that do contemplative prayer at the same hour each night, and congregations that offer Morning and Evening Prayer online. Prayer can be the generative center from which service, or study, such as a Sacred Ground Circle, flows outward. It is something we can rest in when life has run us dry.
My brothers and sisters, I wish you a Holy Lent. Full of prayer and reconciliation, and the slow movements of faith. Let us walk this ancient path with Jesus who meets us along the way and the Holy Spirit with whom our hearts are strangely warmed, to the Father, who runs out to meet us.
“But while he (the Prodigal Son) was still a long way off, his father
saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son,
threw his arms around him and kissed him.” Luke 15:20