These are a few basic thoughts distilled from our Ash Wednesday ritual. Lent begins on March 5 this year.
We need silence to find the spiritual place where Jesus is with us in our suffering and we are with Jesus in his suffering. Lent is the season of silence and solitude — and suffering. Some people will even “give something up” to cause some small suffering to give space where they can experience something more than their usual anesthesia, avoidance or denial. Ash Wednesday is the beginning of our yearly, disciplined journey of repentance and renewal, the beginning of the concentrated season of self-denial and self-giving that feels like suffering but points us toward joy Wednesday we enter the great forty-day fast with millions of other Jesus followers – those living and those who have gone before. God bless you as you take your steps along the way of Jesus this year!
Let’s go as slowly as possible. We need to be quiet, thoughtful, and restful. We must not be impatient. We must not worry if we don’t feel or understand things right away — there are no expectations of Lent except that we seek after Jesus, explore the meaning of his death, and die with him. Paul shares our goal: I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. Lent in not the imposition of some demanding God, but in solitude God’s presence will be compelling. One of Job’s friends has it right when he says: God is wooing us from the jaws of distress into a spacious place free from restriction. Let’s see how much we can cooperate.
Where shall the word be found, where will the word Resound? Not here, there is not enough silence Not on the sea or on the islands, not On the mainland, in the desert or the rain land, For those who walk in darkness Both in the day time and in the night time The right time and the right place are not here No place of grace for those who avoid the face No time to rejoice for those who walk among noise and deny the voice
(TS Eliot in Ash Wednesday)
I have been looking forward to Ash Wednesday. I live in a societal atmosphere, among many recovering evangelicals, among the high-flyers of Center City, where depression is constantly repressed and the sunny face of an optomistic false self is plastered over everything in order to sell it. I need a good excuse to be my completely needy self — no economic recovery, no fulfilling my promise through education, no making a name for myself professionally, no perfect children, friends, experiences or body, no religious self-justification, just Jesus and me in the desert. Just Jesus and me honestly facing temptation.
I have been looking forward to being driven by the Spirit into my yearly desert of discipline to help me enter a deeper atmosphere of interior silence where I might hear the word again. It will be hard to stay there — but I am going to do it on vacation, I am going to do it at the birthday parties, I am going to do it when people think Lent is silly or inexplicable, I am going to do it when no one cares if I do it or not, or when they care too much about whether I am succeeding at it, or when they are irritated or embarrassed to be with me. And since I am the pastor, I am going to do it whether anyone shows up to start it with me, or anyone reads the books I suggested, or anyone comes to the PMs.