Ashes to Ashes

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I’ve never been that comfortable
With Ash Wednesday
With Lent
With self-examination and repentance
And being reminded of my mortality

But the one I follow was all about truth-telling
And justice
And righteousness
Rather than being comfortable

I am not that One
But I am made of clay and dust
Human to the core

May the ashes today
Remind me of my createdness
My calling to be who I am
Who I was crafted to be
Who I am becoming
As my heart, my mind, my clay is shaped
Molded by the Creator

I am yours, Loving God
Show me the way

On the Eve of Ash Wednesday

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On the Eve of Ash Wednesday
Of Spring and new life
Of the Lenten journey

I am overwhelmed with too much
Too many tasks, responsibilities, voices
Too many distractions and demands

Take this frozen and tired soul, Loving God
Nurture within me sustaining life
Coax from me only that which is needed

Let me shed the darkness
That I might reach toward your light

Let me empty cluttered spaces
That there might be a home for you

Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me,
On this Eve of Ash Wednesday

 
 
Find more of my prayers in my book Christ Beside Me, Christ Before Me: Celtic Blessings.

The Ashes …

ashesI’ll never think of the ashes for Ash Wednesday in the same way again — ever since I asked our confirmation class members to assist me in burning some dried-out palm branches in preparation for the Imposition of Ashes.

Our small church doesn’t have a confirmation class every year — not enough kids. And we hadn’t needed any new ashes for a few years — a few ashes go a long way. So I explained to the class that this was perhaps a once-in-a-generation experience — to be the confirmation class that is chosen to burn the palm branches saved up from several years of Palm Sundays.

We started in the classroom discussing the seasons of the Church year. We talked about how the first Sunday of Advent is New Year’s Day for Christians; about how Advent and Lent are both seasons of preparation for the special celebrations of Christmas and Easter. We reviewed the importance of the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday, how the ashes remind us that we are mortal — that we are God’s creations.

Then we moved outside to the parking lot and stood in the cold around a little grill filled with dried palm fronds. We each took a long match and, in unison, lit the matches and held them to the palm leaves.

Whoosh! Dried palm leaves went up in flames. All solemnity vanished as clouds of thick smoke penetrated our clothes, hair, shoes, socks … We added more palms to the fire and talked about Maundy Thursday and Good Friday — and camping and marshmallows. (Where were those liturgical marshmallows when we needed them?)

I was struck by the absolute joy that infused this burning of the palms. There was laughter and dancing, joking and prancing. Whatever expectation I had of a somber, quiet ritual was transformed by the smiles and giggles of young people, fully present, enjoying the moment, burning palm leaves in the service of God.

When the palms were all burned, we pulled ourselves together for a closing prayer. Standing in a circle around the grill, we held hands and gave thanks for the presence of the Holy Spirit in that fire and in those holy moments. We asked God’s blessing for each person there, servants of God, and on the ashes that would be signs of God’s love for each person who received them.

The Ash Wednesday ashes are now infused with special meaning. Sure, they are an outward symbol of the Lenten journey of repentance. But they are also infused with holy laughter and blessed with the full-of-life spirits of now-confirmed, young Christians.

When I receive the ashes, I think of Jesus’ words, “Repent, and believe in the good news” (Mark 1:15, NRSV). And I believe in that good news with all my heart.

And … if I am ever invited to update the liturgical calendar for the Church, I’ll be adding one Sunday to the calendar — the day when the confirmation class burns the palms for Ash Wednesday. We could call it … Conflagration Sunday. (Sorry … I couldn’t resist a little liturgical geek humor.)


Check out some resources for your Lenten Journey by clicking here.

Preparing for Lent

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Hi, Friends,

Lent is only a few weeks away. Ash Wednesday falls on March 9th this year. I have some suggestions for a Lenten journey, in case you are still considering the path you will take this year.

The Awkward Season – an online retreat with my friend and colleague, Pamela C. Hawkins. I’ve not written a Lenten book, but I wish I had written this one. 🙂

The retreat will be offered by The Upper Room and BeADisciple.com. It begins on March 9. Cost is $40. You can find out more about the retreat here.

The Gift of Sorrow – The March/April 2011 issue of Alive Now magazine contains a “Guide to Lent” within its pages. You can order single copies of the issue for your use during Lent. Cost of a single copy is $3.95 (if you need 10 or more copies, there’s a 50% discount). Call 1.800.972.0433. (You can order a subscription to Alive Now by calling the number above or ordering online.)

On the Alive Now website “Daily Reflections” assist you in taking some time with God each day. (They are available on the website and also via email.) And beginning on Ash Wednesday, we’ll be adding some additional content to the “Daily Reflections.” One new piece is “Audio Lectio,” a weekly recording of lectio divina using an excerpt of the gospel reading from the lectionary. Come pray the scripture with us.

What IS Lent, Anyway?! — If you’ve got some questions about Lent, I recommend the article, “Lent 101” by Rev. Penny Ford. Here’s a link to the article on the Alive Now website.

Blessings to you as we prepare to walk with Jesus through days of struggle and toward the Resurrection. I hope to see you on the way.

Beth

Lent and Social Media

A couple of years ago, I wrote an article about a friend who gave up email for lent (“Fasting from Email“). We’re just a few weeks into this year’s Lent and Lenten practices are getting a quite a bit of press, thanks to a number of religious leaders coming out with the suggestion that people consider giving up Twitter, Facebook, or texting for Lent.

I use Twitter, Facebook, texting, and email and don’t feel called to give up any of them for Lent. But I find this discussion very helpful and healthy. What is Lenten practice about? Why give up chocolate or Twitter? Or take on more prayer or a Lenten study? It’s about finding the things that block me from God’s presence and giving them up. Or it’s about taking on something that will strengthen my relationship to God.

It’s easy to hear judgment when I hear that church leaders are calling the faithful to give up technology for Lent. That’s why I found really helpful this conversation with Father James Martin, associate editor of the Catholic weekly magazine, America. Listen to this story from NPR’s Saturday Edition.