“Remember, O man, that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return.”
And so it begins, with the smudge of ash, in the shape of the cross swiped across the foreheads of the faithful, signaling the beginning of the Lenten season. I am not entirely sure what possessed me three years ago to begin writing daily Lenten blog posts. There was something tidy about it; I had been wanting to get back into daily writing (in addition to my morning journal writing) and so Lent gave me a manageable time frame in which to do it. Nothing so dramatic as 1,000 days of gratitude, but with a definite beginning, middle, and ending. In spite of the seeming simplicity of 40 days of writing (and Lent is actually 46 days if you include Sundays), writing and publishing a semi-coherent blog every day is not easy. Nevertheless, I consider this taking up of my metaphorical pen each Ash Wednesday as making the kind of sacrifice that Lent is known for, only rather than giving something up, I am adding something. Now we’ll see what I can do with it.
I cannot remember the last time I actually received ashes, as the priest murmured a hurried, “Remember man that thou art dust,” before moving on to the next person in line. My guess is that it’s been over 30 years. So I suppose it might seem odd that I would choose to write for the third year a series of posts about a season that commemorates the last days of the ministry of Jesus, his suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension. I suppose anyone reading them would be hard-pressed to believe that I am no longer a “practicing” Christian, belonging instead to the ever-growing population of people who characterize themselves as “spiritual but not religious.” I am a strange mixture of ex-Catholic, ex-Pentecostal, ex-lots of things plus a healthy dose of Buddhist teachings, shamanism, and various other spiritual pursuits.
In spite of my ex- status, I honor my Christian roots and spend this time thinking about the meaning of suffering and sacrifice, of life and death, of mourning and celebrating. Lent is a time when we commemorate death and rebirth, so it’s fitting that it mostly occurs during late winter/early springtime. People used to look at winter, particularly in the northern climes where snow is common, as a time of death, but those of us who pay attention to such things know it to be anything but that. There’s no doubt that on the surface everything appears to be lifeless, barren, unfruitful, but underneath life is happening, waiting for the right conditions to draw it forth back into the light.
It is often in the quiet examination of our inner world that we experience the divine. Certainly the last several months of Jesus’ life and ministry he spent intense periods of time on his own, seeking temporary refuge from the masses to spend time in prayer and reflection. And so we too begin this journey of another forty days, seeing what insights we gain from time in reflection. In the hectic, sometimes brutally fast-pace environments we live and work in, such retreat can be key to supporting our own sense of wellbeing. So as we move forward in the days ahead, may we find time, if only for a few minutes each day, for quiet reflection. And may I find the strength and perseverance to assist in bringing you a few thoughts each day. May it be so!