Wednesday, February 14
 
Prayer: Ash Wednesday & Valentine's Day
   How interesting: Ash Wednesday coincides with Valentine's Day! I remember as a child dreading that classroom swap of little red cards and candies with messages like "You make my temperature rise" or "Be Mine" or "Hugs & Kisses." Retailers report that Americans spend $18 billion a year on Valentine's day dinners, flowers, chocolates, and gifts.
   Hard to imagine an Ash Wednesday industry producing any money at all. Dark grey-crossed greetings cards with messages like "Repent"? Dinner out with friends - but it's a fast, and all that's consumed is water?
   Ash Wednesday kicks off a forty day season that is the antithesis of American consumption. We fast, we give up things we really like - not to diet or improve our health, but to discover our deep hunger for God that gets numbed by our constant stuffing ourselves and satisfying every whim. We focus for a season on how superficial we've become, and submit ourselves to a time of sitting in the quiet, reflecting, trying to notice how out of sync our lives are with what Jesus was about. Is it a fun time? Of course not; it's better. It's a season of sorrow, the kind of sorrow that paradoxically opens up the possibility of real joy, the joy that surprises us when we become more intimate with God and live in holy ways that it turns out aren't unpleasant at all.
   Valentine's Day is about love, or at least love that hopes to become love. Ash Wednesday is about love, and even the smallest hint of love for God growing and becoming real, viable, meaningful and enriching. The way to life in any relationship involves losing something, giving up something. When I married Lisa, I gave up a lot of other options for how to spend my time, and with whom; I gave up the notion that I could do whatever I wanted whenever. A happy sacrifice, a joyful embrace of a narrower life. So it is when we fall in love with God, when we commit ourselves in love to God. Our options narrow. Our time is entirely impacted. We ask not What do I want? but What does God want? After you get the hang of this, it dawns on you that What God wants is, surprise surprise, what I really wanted deep in my soul all along.
   The way to this surprise, the Church cares enough to tell us, is repentance. How fitting - to repent on the day of love. A corny movie way back featured the memorable line, "Love means never having to say you're sorry." Love is quick to say I am sorry, and to shift direction in order to love, to deepen and improve the relationship.
   So let us begin, today, to have a holy Lent, a season of growing love, of repentance, of daring to grieve what is out of sync with God in our minds, hearts and lives, of living into the hard questions of what needs changing, not to grovel before an intimidating God, but to soar to holy friendship with a loving, intimate God.
   God's messages in the grey dust are quite simple: Be mine. I am yours. Love forever.
James
Come to our Ash Wednesday services, 11am & 7pm.
Sunday's joint sermon with Bishop Claude Alexander on Domestic Violence is on YouTube .
Join us this coming Monday, 6:30pm, as our Mental Health series kicks off with a program led by Dr. Justin Perry, formerly of Hopeway House and a therapist of great renown, and yours truly. Together we will explore what goes on with people we know and love, and how we respond in faith and hope.