Ash Wednesday

Since Lent is a time of repentance, I should start with a confession: I'm not giving anything up this year.

Since I began the practice of giving something up for Lent a few years ago, I had the feeling there was probably more to the observance of Lent than petty self-denial, but having been raised in a non-liturgical church where the word Lent was rarely even mentioned, didn't know what it was and didn't have a clear path to find out more. So I didn't. I was just happy to have found a "season" for Easter. Christmas has Advent (practiced with a remarkable degree of ceremony in my decidedly-not-high-church congregation), so it seemed only right that Easter -- the event on which our entire faith hangs -- should be more than one day of celebration.

One year, I heard a suggestion that one might add something during Lent instead of giving something up. I tucked that thought into my small mental file on the season's observance.

This year, I read a simple but helpful article on the practices underlying Lent and why all these evangelicals hopping on the bandwagon should learn a bit more about what they're actually doing.

Somewhere in the middle of all these influences, I decided my Lenten practice this year would be blogging. It sounds counter-intuitive among all the people giving up Facebook, Twitter, and, well, blogging, but before you think I'm crazy, hear me out.

The self-denial? Let's be honest; we tend to choose something that won't be too hard to give up, something we know is good for us to abstain from anyway. And we count down the days till Easter when we can pick up our vices again. It's not without value to give up a guilty pleasure, but, as Renee explains, if all it produces is righteous feelings and/or savings, without being mirrored in some God-inspired response, we're missing the point.

So how does adding blogging to my life possibly fall into the category Lenten discipline? I'm a very inconstant blogger, for one, so it's hardly an obsession I'd be better separated from. In fact, as a wanna-be writer, the discipline of daily output would be quite good for me (rendering this no less noble than giving up chocolate, and losing weight as a result). So where does Jesus come in? Well, very soon I'll stop talking about what I'm planning to do, and begin doing it. My hope and prayer is that schooling myself to blog meditations on a Scripture passage, song, image, or Lenten reflection will contribute to my spiritual formation. And not only that, my intention is that the time this practice takes may steal time from some of my less constructive pursuits.

And here we begin.

"Turn away from sin...
...and be faithful to the Gospel."

Those were the words the servant at the Catholic parish church spoke as she brushed fine ashes on my forehead. A whole sermon in one phrase. It recalled to me Jesus' words to the woman caught in adultery: "Go, and sin no more." Leave behind your pleasurable but destructive activities and serve God.

My spirit rose up and said yes! at this gentle exhortation. Not easy, of course, but so very simple. We're not only instructed to stop sinning, with no new alternatives provided, and we're not told to replace old habits with a set of laws and rules to follow. As the priest tonight said in his sermon, Jesus never said, "Blessed are those who feel guilty." The general attitude in our churches might suggest otherwise!

No, we're to leave behind the things that drag us down, and replace them with a story. A person. Love incarnated. So that a set of rules isn't even good enough anymore; following, faithfulness now means figuring out with each step what it looks like to love those around us.

Wow. I think I fail at that nearly every moment of every day. Thank God for his breathtaking grace; may I extend it regularly to others, and in so doing, begin to learn what love looks like to you/him/her/them/us/me...God.

Psalm 51:3-6, 12-14, 17
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
and justified when you judge.
Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
so that sinners will turn back to you.
Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
you who are God my Savior,
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.

My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.


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