Greetings in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord on this Ash Wednesday.
Ash Wednesday is the day that begins the christian observance of Lent–the forty day period (not including Sundays) before Easter Sunday. As a church season, Lent is ancient. In the year 604, Pope Gregory I described Lent as “the spiritual tithing of the year.” At this time of year, we are reminded of Christ’s forty day fast before his temptation in the desert, and the forty hours he spent in the tomb before rising Easter morning. We recall our own mortality and the death that Jesus suffered.
In more modern times, Lent is often thought of as a time of spiritual renewal. People are often challenged or invited to take up a Lenten practice. And in Lent, there are three spiritual practices that come to mind: prayer, fasting and the giving of alms. Recalling Jesus teaching to his disciples in Matthew chapter 6.
At the spiritual core of alms giving is an intentional giving of one’s self to others. For some this means the increasing of their practices of generosity, that is, giving extra money to a church, charity or an organization helping the needy. However, you could also practice giving alms by giving more of your time in service, too.
Lent is a good time to experiment with a new prayer practice. Perhaps, you have wanted to cultivate a contemplative prayer practice, or pray the psalms daily. I will be encouraging Portage Lake United Church to this Lent to take up a walking prayer practice rooted in the ancient prayer labyrinth. The prayer like a physical walk has three movements: 1) walking in, 2) being in the center (or at the furthest distance), and 3) walking out. These stages can be used in reflective prayer to help us let go of what hinders us, to rest in God, and to engage in the world.
Finally, Lent is often characterized by fasting. From ancient times, people have denied themselves food (or types of foods) as a way to gain spiritual insight. As one hungers for food, one cultivates a hunger and dependence upon God. Perhaps you could fast one meal, or day a week this lent. Rather than heading to the table or grabbing your lunchbag, you might find time for prayer or Bible reading.
I encourage you to take up one or more of these practices during these next forty days. But if you do, there just may be times when you don’t follow through exactly as you may have hoped to do so. A coworker may offer you something to eat, and before you know it, you’ve eaten on your fast-day. Or, you may forget to pray that new prayer sometimes. Be easy on yourself–you are only dust after all. Remember, Lent begins with Ash Wednesday. The day in which we remember that we are made from dust and to the dust we will return. Our fragile mortality is a mystery–both awe inspiring and humbling. The truth is we are all in need of God’s constant grace–the season of Lent gives us opportunity after opportunity to bring this to mind, and open our spirits to God. We may be beings destined for dust, but it is God’s very Spirit that gives us life, both now and in what is to come. Thanks be to God!