The spiritual disciplines practiced during Lent help turn our focus from ourselves toward others.
REV. DR. SUSAN HENRY-CROWE
General Board of Church and Society
In the liturgy on Ash Wednesday, we touch our congregants’ foreheads, draw an ashen cross, and remind each, “to dust you will return.” It’s one of the most moving gestures of ministry.
The Christian community prepares for Easter by entering this holy season of Lent with these words and this mark. We begin Lent remembering our need for repentance (turning) and our reliance on the forgiveness of God proclaimed by Jesus Christ. We do so in the hope that Lent may be a time of renewal, growth and transformation.
The words of the Ash Wednesday service:
I invite you in the name of Christ, to observe a holy Lent by self-examination and repentance, by prayer, fasting, self-denial, and giving to those in need, and by reading and meditating on the word of God.
Lent is a time of self-examination, a time of having our hearts converted and opened for more spacious love. We ponder our habits, fears, anxieties and actions (and inaction). We reflect on all that distance us from the community of faith, from our families, from our loves, from those yearning for connection, from those lost and wandering. Self-examination does not mean to be harsh and self-critical, but it is a willingness to understand our woundedness. Self-examination leads us into the way of making room to love more fully, more deeply and more honestly. Self-examination helps us repent and turn toward love.
I recently encountered a woman who witnessed the killing and brutal mutilation of her father in a conflict not of her doing. She and her siblings left their home not able to bear the pain of returning.
Years later, after lamenting the horrors of the violence and a long season of mourning she wanted to return to her home. She said, “I finally returned to my home because I have forgiven those that killed my father.”
Opening our hearts so that we can love more spaciously takes time, self-examination, prayer and turning around.
Lent is also a time for us to engage in spiritual disciplines like prayer, fasting, self-denial, and giving to those in need. The These disciplines occur in the life of the community and are transformative for moving from the tragedy to hope. They lead to understanding, healing and forgiveness, all of which prepares us for Easter.
Easter is our celebration of God’s generosity. Generosity is what saved and continues to save the world. God’s generosity is the gift of Jesus Christ. It is God’s giving to us what we need. Implicit in the invitation of Ash Wednesday is gratitude and justice for all in need.
How will you and your church be generous in this Lenten season? How will you extend yourselves to those in spiritual, social, economic need? With whom will you walk? With whom will you pray?
The word of God
Lastly, meditating on the word of God helps us contemplate the meaning of God’s generous love, in its many expressions. Through worship, prayer, meditation in our communities, in listening to our neighbors, in working for justice, in standing with those persons who are migrating from one place to another, being companions with those living in the hard conditions of poverty moves us into the joy of resurrection.
In Blackwater Woods
By: Mary Oliver
Look, the trees
their own bodies
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
the long tapers
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders
of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is
nameless now. Every year
I have ever learned
in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.