Ash Thursday

Ash Wednesday came and went yesterday.  Many around our area found themselves in church for special services.  Many emerged with ashes on their foreheads.  I saw many of my friends with this distinguishing sign of the ashes.  Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of a rather extended period of Lent, which leads us to Easter.
Growing up as a Quaker this was no big deal for me; in fact, it was no “deal” at all.  I never went to any service on Ash Wednesday.  Until recently, I never had ashes placed on my forehead.  I never entertained the idea that I should “give up” anything for a season.  I never thought about “taking up” anything either.  When you are surrounded by people like yourself, you think everyone must be exactly the same.  That is called provincialism or, in some circles, narrowness.  That was my life when I was growing up.
Quakers always told us no day was any more important than any other.  I still believe this to be true and it is still a guiding principle in my spiritual journey.  But there is a danger lurking in this truth, which can trick us and, then, trip us.  The danger is, since no day is any more important than any other day, we might conclude that no day is important!  If we start living like no day is important, we risk beginning to live life as if that is not important.  I certainly want my life to be important.  And I think everyone’s life is potentially important.
In fact, I’m sure in God’s eyes every one of us is important … you, everyone, and I.  And God also thinks every day can be important.  I am confident God intended for each and every day to be important.  For me Lent becomes a real opportunity to examine myself – to look at how I live.  At a very real level, Lent is a time to fast.  For me the fasting is not giving up a meal a day or giving up sweets.
Instead, I want to fast from my ability to ignore the beauty of my life and my world.  I want to fast from my own pettiness and selfishness.  I want to fast from those times I am tempted to pull back from participating fully in life as God gives it to me.  Normally, fasting is seen as a “giving up” of something.  Usually, it is giving up something that I really like, but may not be too good for me.  Chocolate is a choice for many. 
Lent is a time of preparation.  Fasting is tied to the theme of preparation.  But it is not always a “giving up.”  Fasting can be “taking on” something.  Fasting can mean taking on a discipline that will prepare me for something.  In my case my fasting will prepare me to see myself more clearly and love God more dearly.  Holy One, reveal to us in this season of fast the true feast you prepare for us.  Blessings.
That kind of preparation is both serious and significant.  To see myself more clearly sounds easy enough.  Probably most of us think we already know ourselves pretty well.  We have names and an identity.  We may have a job---perhaps a career.  We identify ourselves by what we do.  I can introduce myself as a “professor” and assume that pretty well sums it up.  Everyone should know who I am if I introduce myself that way.
But there is a glitch.  There is a slight uneasiness in this approach.  What if I get sick or old?  What if I am no longer able to be a professor?  Will I become a nobody?  It is always tricky to have our identity tied closely---or even solely---with what we do.  The authentic spiritual journey helps us see identity is as much tied to who we are---who we be---as it is to what we do.  I would like to think I will still be somebody even when I can no longer do what I am doing.
Lent is a time to explore this identity issue.  In the case of Jesus, he was driven into the wilderness.  In the wilderness he was a nobody.  But he was tempted---tempted in multiple ways.  He was tempted to become a somebody in worldly terms.  He was tempted to become relevant or, even, spectacular.  He was tempted to become superficially special.  But he resisted temptation.  He was content to be a nobody in worldly terms, but obviously was a real somebody in spiritual terms.  He models how to do Lent---our own wilderness experience.
So today---any day after Ash Wednesday---is nothing special.  The ashes are gone; our foreheads are clean as everyone else’s forehead.  We are tempted to return to life as usual and to our world as usual.  We are tempted to conclude the Spirit has nothing special in mind for us---for you and for me. 
I think the discipline of Lent is an opportunity to practice being special.  Every one of us is special in the eyes of God.  Lent is the time to be appropriate and appreciate how God sees u through the divine eyes.  Too often, believing in God is easy.  Believing in our own specialness is not as easy.  In fact, some of us may find this literally unbelievable!  If this is true, we need to be converted.
Lent is the time of conversion and conviction.  It is the time for us to be converted to the possibility of becoming our true self.  And when we are in the process of converting, then we can begin to live into the conviction that our spiritual journey is to become the person God most wants us to become---and child of God and a member of the blessed community. 

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