Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of the Lenten season in the Christian church. I wasn’t raised in a religious tradition, and my only childhood experience of Lent was a vague feeling of exclusion when certain kids would come to school with ashes smudged on their foreheads. I eventually became a Christian in my forties after discovering that unlike the judgmental, unloving, money-obsessed preachers on television, the historical Jesus was a rabble rouser who confronted systems of economic injustice and religious oppression and liked to hang out and drink good wine with messed up people like me.
As a new Christian, I was drawn to the idea of sacrifice as a way to focus on God during the forty days leading up to Easter Sunday. The Lenten season mirrors several stories from the Bible: the forty years that the Jewish people followed God through the wilderness and the forty days that the devil tempted Jesus with earthly enticements in the desert. The word Lent comes from lang, meaning long, because the days grow longer in the spring. And when you are engaging in the common practice of “giving up something for Lent,“ the days can seem very long indeed.
I started out just giving up something for the sake of giving up something. When I missed whatever that was — alcohol, saturated fat, cheese — I would turn my mind to God. That was nice, as far as it went, but I wanted something more meaningful.
I’ve since learned that the real point of a Lenten sacrifice is to seriously reflect on an area of your life that you would like to change and then consider what practice you might engage in that would help you move towards that change. The point is not the practice, it is the transformation.
Releasing Fear For Forty Days
This year I’m trying something different: I’m giving up fear for Lent. For forty days, I will work on becoming aware of the many ways that fear rules my life, and I will engage in practices that will help release me from those fears.
I start today. I’m pretty jazzed about this — I think it could be deeply transformational. I’m sure I’ll be blogging about it as I learn thrilling and absolutely fascinating truths about myself, which may to you resemble tiresome navel gazing. I hope not. We shall see.
Tonight I’ll receive the mark of the ashes on my forehead, reminding me that I came from dust and to dust I will return when my journey here is through. I have only a short time here on earth to become the person I was born to be, and I would rather be led by love than driven by fear.
A Poem I Did Not Write
For Ash Wednesday, I offer this excerpt from a lovely Lenten poem by Joyce Rupp called Prayer of One Who Feels Lost:
I want to be more but I fight the growing.
I want to be new but I hang on to the old.
I want to live but I won’t face the dying.
I want to be whole but cannot bear
To gather up the pieces into one.
Is it that I refuse to be out of control,
To let the tears take their humbling journey,
To allow my spirit to feel its depression,
To stay with the insecurity of “no home”?
Now is the time. You call to me,
Begging me to let you have my life,
Inviting me to taste the darkness
So I can be filled with the light,
Allowing me to lose my direction
So that I will find my way home to you.