Last week, Linda+ and I were at the annual Presbyters Retreat. Presbyter is Greek for elder, and it is the original word for priest. We were bemoaning Lent’s imminent arrival and debating among us the practice of ashes-to-go. Some of my colleagues are sold on this relatively new practice of trooping out with ashes to impose on the foreheads of all in sundry. I don’t favor ashes-to-go because ashing is part of a larger liturgical and spiritual process, and it loses significance outside of a community gathered together in worship. Other colleagues argued that ashes-to-go is an important evangelical opportunity, spreading the practice and its significance to people who don’t come to church. I can’t decouple the action from the context in which it derives meaning. I don’t mean ashes to go has no meaning, but it has a different meaning from that intended in the Prayer Book’s introduction to the keeping of a good Lent.
There is a connection in church life between
what you attract people to
what you attract them with
. Offering as the primary attractor superficial experiences severed from their larger significance simply promotes a consumerist approach to religious practice. In modern consumerist religion, worship is replaced by individualism, plush auditorium seating, a great floor show, and a Starbucks in the foyer. My concern about ashes-to-go
is that it feeds into a kind of consumerist, magical thinking.
It is the practice of the Church to begin Lent as a 40-day period of reflection and repentance with the imposition upon the forehead of ash made from the burnt palm crosses of the previous year’s Palm Sunday. This action signifies our transient mortality.
It takes place within the community at worship.
Contemplating our own mortality is something that strikes terror into contemporary hearts. Ashing challenges us to do so. Only when we contemplate the transience of life can we more fully invest in the living of life. Contemplating our own mortality reminds us that in life, we have not a moment to lose. Whether it is your personal practice or not, I would welcome seeing many of you at one of our three Ash Wednesday Services: 7 am, 12 pm, and 7 pm.
This Lent, we will meet on Tuesday evenings for our Lent study course:
A Life of Grace for the Whole World
: the bishops pastoral teaching on the care for the environment in the face of the climate emergency. We have purchased 50 adult work books which are available as part of the Tuesday night food and study package. We suggest a voluntary $60 contribution covering the five weeks of the program. For those attending Sunday’s adult forum, the book can be purchased for $10. Copies are also available on Amazon Smile in both Kindle and paperback formats.
Lent is a time for an intentional shift in the pace of our lives by paying attention to the spiritual quality in our living. Lent’s different rhythm offers a chance to review the values and attitudes that will otherwise, continue to hold us in their grip.
See you in church, this Sunday,