Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Ash Wednesday 2013

Today is Ash Wednesday. Last night was Fat Tuesday. This year marks the first year in the last several that I haven't attended or officiated a 7AM church service to launch into this season. Jamie had to be at work this morning at 530AM, so that did not afford us an opportunity to go together to begin this season of reflection.

Some people look at Ash Wednesday and Lent as a time when members of the Roman Catholic Church give up sweets, cursing, or something of the sort, but the season is meant to be so much more than a time of saying no to sugar. To be clear, Jamie and I are not members of the Roman Catholic Church, but Ash Wednesday and Lent are not just a part of that tradition, and personally, I believe that followers of Jesus of all church traditions can benefit greatly from observing the practices of this season.

So what are Ash Wednesday and Lent about? Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of a 40 day period (excluding Sundays) that leads up to Easter. That period is called Lent or the Lenten Season because it is also a time of year in which days are growing longer as well. So Ash Wednesday is meant to be a beginning of a period of self denial and reflection to help people grow in their intimacy with Jesus and deepen their faith. As ashes are placed upon the foreheads of the faithful, typically the officiant reminds the participant to "Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel."

The season of Lent has historically meant more than a time to get ashes on ones forehead and give up chocolate or caffeine for a season. The spirit of the season is to do something that few of us take time to do these days. It's an opportunity to take stock of our lives, and to take steps toward growing in our relationship with God. And it is a season to cultivate habits that will deepen that relationship, or let go of habits that are hindering us. The whole season ends in a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus (and Sundays along the way are mini-celebrations) of that great day.

But lent is more than just a time of reflection. The 40 day period is also significant. For the Christian, Lent marks a season of intentionality not only of personal reflection, but also an opportunity to in some small way identify with the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness fasting and cultivating his own relationship with the Father in preparation for His ministry and temptations that were coming ahead. And so, as millions engage in this season, they begin a period of self-reflection, of closer identification with Jesus, and of transformation that culminates in Resurrection Day celebration. Again, traditionally people both take away something that may be hindering their relationship with God, or they may add something to cultivate this relationship.

Personally, I strive to do a little bit of both. As I begin this period, I am joining with a few friends to walk through a devotional book called Developing Intimacy With God by Alex Aronis. I highly recommend the book if you are looking for a tool to cultivate your own relationship with God. At the same time, I have noticed myself watching more and more television over the last few months. It is not that television is evil (though some might say so), but I believe that sitting in front of a TV distracts me from cultivating conversation and caring for others, so among other things I am letting go of will be television.

What about you? Have you ever observed the Lenten tradition? Are you doing so this year? What will you add or take away from your daily regimen in order to grow in your love for God and your love for others?

May we each take time to take stock of our lives, and put practices in place that will help us cultivate our love for God and for our neighbors. The world could use a little more love, so maybe you and I can take this season and grow in our ability to love better.

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