Saturday, February 29, 2020

The Beauty of Lent

"Once a year, on a Wednesday, we mix ashes with oil. We light candles and confess to one another and to God that we have sinned, by what we have done and what we have left undone. We tell the truth. Then we smear the ashes on our foreheads and together acknowledge the single reality upon which every catholic and protestant, believer and atheist, scientist and mystic can agree;

"Remember that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return."

It's the only thing we know for use. We will die.

"Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust."

But a long time ago a promise was made. A prophet named Isaiah said a messenger would come to proclaim good news to the poor and brokenhearted. To bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.

"Those who once repented in ashes will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the  display of His splendor." - Isaiah 61:3

We could not become like God, so He became like us. God showed us how to heal instead of kill, how to mend instead of destroy, how to love instead of hate, how to live instead of long for more. When we nailed Jesus to a tree, God forgave. And when we buried His Son in the ground, He rose."

- Rachel Held Evans

How I Observe Ash Wednesday
This past Wednesday was Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent. I've observed this day and season for a number of years now, but not being Catholic, it looks a little different for me. As a protestant I believe that because of the blood of Christ, I have direct access to God through prayer, thus eliminating the need for a priest. That being said, I certainly respect differing beliefs, and I would love it if one day I was able to actually attend mass on Ash Wednesday and receive the ashes, but to be honest, aside from my own humble observance I have little knowledge of whether that would even be possible. But as the observance of the Year of the Lord is something I hold dear, I've conducted my own simple service in the privacy of my home for several years now.

While palms are traditionally burned to form the ashes for Ash Wednesday, I am not even sure where to find palms? In their absence, I traditionally have kept a bit of greenery from the previous Christmas season to form mine. It seems fitting to me as Christmas is the observance of Christ's birth, to use them to make the ashes in observance of the forty days leading up to His crucifixion and resurrection.

This year I was little limited as to how to go about burning the greenery. In our downsizing we are currently living in an apartment and our landlord doesn't allow open flames on the property. But after a some contemplation, I decided the little that I needed to burn wouldn't pose a threat, though I was still careful. I just used a tin can that I'd set aside and broke off some twigs and dropped in the match. It made a pretty good flame and looked like it was burning well. I allowed it to cool for awhile and then poured it out into a bowl, but was disappointed to discover that not much of it had burned and there were a lot of green needles mixed in with the burned pieces. That made getting to the pure ash a little difficult, but thankfully I managed to collect enough to mix with a few drops of olive oil to make a paste.

It is likewise tradition to draw the sign of the cross on your forehead, but as I have bangs I can never see it, and so I usually place it on my hand instead. It's still visible to others if I happen to be out, but more importantly, to me. I find the reminder helps to keep me more focused on the meaning and symbolism of the day. I give something up every year, though in recent years I haven't discussed it much it and keep it more personal. When the girls were young they participated with me and we would always talk through what we were giving up as they often needed guidance. But now that it's just me these observances have become more personal.

If you'v never observed Ash Wednesday and you are interested you can learn more here.  If you are protestant, as I am, and your church does not observe Ash Wednesday, you can easily create your own service as I have. I do a little differently every year, and this year was probably the simplest observance I've conducted yet as the lack of being able to burn the ashes presented a bit of a challenge. Typically I have a large amount of ashes that I keep in a pretty cut glass jar and sit out as a reminded thoughout the season. But for some reason I can't seem to put my hands on the little jar, and since the burn was a bit of a fail anyway, that hasn't happened. I may try again as the season of Lent lasts for 40 days, and I do still have some greenery, but I'll have to figure out how to get it to burn more evenly and that might make a larger flame and I need be discreet.

I'll be sharing more about the season of Lent over the next few weeks, so if you're interested I hope you'll follow along!

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