Lent begins: Memento, quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris
Remember, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return
Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the 46 day long period known on the Christian calendar as Lent. In some Christian traditions, people will go to church today to have their priest or minister inscribe their forehead with a cross made of ashes and oil. The ashes are usually the ashes of the burned palm fronds from the prior year's Palm Sunday. This practice dates from the early Middle Ages, and is common among Roman Catholics, Anglicans and Episcopalians, and many Lutherans. It was also adopted by some Methodists and Presbyterians in the 1990s.
The ashes are a mark of repentance, of sorrow and of grief.
Today also marks the first day of any special Lenten devotional activity that a person might take on for the Lenten season.
Martha, Martha will be posting pictures of art during Lent. She invites the blogosphere to comment on if and how they feel spiritually connected to the art that she posts.
Maggi Dawn suggests facing ones over abundant consumption during Lent and paring down consumables. She says that "Lent is a good time to look at your relationship to stuff."
Brenda who lives in a Christian monastic community in inner-city Amsterdam, discusses the ways the community observes Lent.
Sister Julie a Roman Catholic nun, suggests doing a random act of kindness each day during Lent.
And, finally, Abbey of the Arts provides a moving and thoughtful reflection on lamentation and sorrow during Lent. Here is a small section of what she says::
The prayer of lament is first and foremost truth-telling, it begins by challenging the way things are. Lament names that something is not right in the world. This pain, this suffering should not be. It helps us to name the lies we have been living and participating in.
Lament opens us up to a new vision of how God is present to our suffering. We call on the God who weeps with us, whose groans are our own, and we express our hope in Godâ€™s tender care.
Lament is a form of resistance: We allow ourselves to be present to God in our brokenness and resist the cultural imperative to be strong and hold it all together. We resist cultural practices of denying death through our worship of eternal youth. We stop pretending everything is okay and put an end to worshipping the status quo.
Lament puts us in solidarity with those who are suffering and schools us in compassion. Only when we have become familiar with the landscape of our own pain can we then enter into the suffering of another. Lament moves us beyond our own narrow perspectives.
In the prayer of lament we help give voice to the oppressed, to hidden suffering, the suffering in silence that happens because pain takes our language away. The prophet Joel says to blow the trumpet and call the assembly, because lament is the work of the community. Gathered together we say that the pain is being heard, that it is valid. Our community votes with its tears that there is suffering worth weeping over.
Finally, lament is the release of power, Godâ€™s power. The power that is the soul-transforming call of repentance. The paradox of our faith is that we must first surrender fully to these ashes, into the desert places of brokenness, before Easter and its promise of resurrection can fully enter and fill us. In our second reading, Paul invites us to be ambassadors of reconciliation. Lament invites in Godâ€™s reconciling and healing power.
During Lent my practice will be truth-telling. I will inhabit my places of grief, the sorrows I have resisted up until now, and allow my unspoken lament to rise up in me like fire. I will turn off the endless noise and chatter that distract me from those places where my heart has hardened. I will be in solidarity with those who have no voice and listen for their silent groans. I will trust along with our spiritual ancestors who wrote and sang the Psalms in the assembly, that when I go to the rawest, most vulnerable places, my soul is then transformed and I can answer the call to repentance with my whole heart.
Lent differs from person to person, woman to woman. It is a time carved from everyone's unique spiritual place in life, designed with no "shoulds", just marked with whatever sincerely held observance is most deeply felt and most personally possible.
For those of you within the observing traditions, what are you planning for Lent?