Tag Archives: ash wednesday

Prayer For Ash Wednesday

1 Mar

Today is Ash Wednesday, one of the most popular holy days in the church year. Most of us will try to get to church during the day to receive a cross of ashes on our foreheads. If you are unable to do that, use this prayer service to begin Lent.

Gather with your family or in a communal space in your building or with other friends and neighbors. You can create ashes by burning some palm from last year’s Palm Sunday, or a small piece of paper or fabric. All you need for the prayer service is someone to lead and someone to read the scripture.

prayer-symbolLeader: Loving God, be with us as we begin the holy season of Lent.
All: Loving God, be with us.
Reader: St. Paul tells us “God has sent the Holy Spirit into our hearts. The Spirit urges us from deep inside to say, ‘Abba, my father.’ We are no longer slaves. We are God’s sons and daughters.”
Leader: During Lent we want to grow closer to you, Abba, our father, and to be more loving to one another. These ashes are a sign of the commitments we make to keep Lent.

Pass the dish of ashes around. Each person dips his or her thumb in the ashes and makes a cross on the forehead of the person on his/her right, saying:

__________ you are a child of God. Make loving choices during Lent.

Ask if people wish to share their commitments. Sing a simple song everyone knows to conclude your prayer.

The Legacy of Dust

12 Feb
Photo via Flickr user Neal Fowler

Photo via Flickr user Neal Fowler

And to dust we shall return. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about bodies lately. And Ash Wednesday always invites me to think about the end of my body’s existence. It will, one day, be dust.

Elizabeth Alexander in her memoir The Light of the World, writes about her husband dying. She sees the moment when she believes the soul of her husband leaves the body:

Now I know for sure the soul is an evanescent thing and the body is its temporary container, because I saw it. I saw the body with the soul in it, I saw the body with the soul leaving, and I saw the body with the soul gone.

Our bodies, which house our souls, will turn to dust. In this life, though, I do believe the body and soul inform each other, co-exist. Our souls are formed by the experience our bodies have. We shall become dust, but dust is not the end of our story.

My friend’s father recently passed away. It was a hard loss. The father was a brilliant man who also struggled as a bipolar alcoholic. My friend did not have time to make amends before his father passed. In the eulogy, he said he needed to honor his father by claiming the complexity of his character, not only remembering the good times or the hard times. Remembering in a compassionate way, he said, meant remembering the wounds and the beauty. He spoke of hearing his father’s voice, free from suffering, isolation and pain. Free. Redeemed. He is dust, and yet he lives on. And my friend spoke of how his father will continue on in this place through his legacy, through how his sons choose to live and love:

Since my dad’s passing, I’ve found myself wishing that I had loved more radically, that I had thought about my legacy. I’ve found myself wishing I had known how to plant more seeds of compassion, pardon, peace, and love in my relationship with dad. Then a voice whispers to me: he says, “I am still here, and you still can.”

To dust we shall return, but dust is not the end of our story.

Lent: A New Beginning

11 Feb

Lent2016secondweek

On Ash Wednesday we hear “Remember, you are human.” That is not bad news. After all, Jesus was human, too. Make the most of your humanity this Lent.  Be the best you can be. Here are 12 more ways to choose from as you add color to your Lenten cross. If you have not downloaded the cross yet, you can do it now.

PLANT

  • Work in your yard.  Meet and visit with neighbors.
  • Plant a tomato in a large pot. Find a sunny spot for the pot. Water and care for the plant. Enjoy eating your own tomatoes.

SIMPLIFY

  • Organize a junk drawer or storage area.
  • Put a water-saving head on your shower.

PRAY

  • Count your blessings. Develop a habit of recognizing ten blessings a day.
  • Check out our online Lenten retreats

READING

  • Read the Omnivore’s Dilemma about where food comes from.
  • Find in Genesis 7.11 what threatens humankind with extinction.

FAMILY and FRIENDS

  • Give 10 minutes of uninterrupted, attentive listening to a family member.
  • Reach out to a member of your extended family that you sense needs some care.

PARTICIPATE

  • Take food to a local food shelf.
  • Participate as a family in a local spring clean-up.

SBS-25-22-REVISED-COVER

 

Click here for a reflection on the scriptures for the 1st Sunday of Lent.

Ash Wednesday: A New Beginning

5 Feb
Click on the image above to download your Lent cross.

Click on the image above to download your Lent cross.

Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, is next Wednesday. If you have not downloaded the Lent 2016 cross from Good Ground Press, do so now. You can begin adding color to the cross by choosing from the activities below. The spaces on the cross are color-coded.

  1. Plant activities are green
  2. Simplify activities are yellow
  3. Pray is purple
  4. Reading is blue
  5. Family/Friends are red
  6. Participate is orange

Here are some suggestions for the first days of Lent. We will add more each week during Lent.

1. Plant  Buy a pot of bulbs that only need your care to grow.

2. Simplify  Minimize the electricity you use for a day.

3. Pray  Find a minute of quiet to let your concerns for others rise to God in prayer.

4. Reading  Read the Gospel for Ash Wednesday written below.

5. Family/Friends  Make the phone call you have been putting off.

6. Participate  Volunteer your energy or your money in some small way.


Ash Wednesday gospel reading

Jesus said to his disciples, “Be on guard against performing religious acts for people to see.  Otherwise expect no recompense from your heavenly Father.  When you give alms, for example, do not blow a horn before you in synagogues and streets like hypocrites looking for applause.  You can be sure of this much, they are already repaid.  In giving alms you are not to let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.  Keep your deeds of mercy secret, and your Father who sees in secret will repay you.
“When you are praying, do not behave like the hypocrites who love to stand and pray in synagogues or on street corners in order to be noticed.  I give you my word, they are already repaid.  Whenever you pray, go to your room close your door, and pray to your Father in private.  Then your Father, who sees what no man sees, will repay you.
“When you fast, you are not to look glum as the hypocrites do.  They change the appearance of their faces so that others may see they are fasting.  I assure you, they are already repaid.  When you fast, see to it that you groom your hair and wash your face.  In that way no one can see you are fasting but your Father who is hidden; and your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.”

Matthew 6.1-6, 16-18

 

 

Dust

27 Feb
Photo via Flickr user John

Photo via Flickr user John

Our church has three Ash Wednesday services, one of which is a family service. The children’s choir sings, and the pastor sets a bowl of palms on fire during the sermon, burning them into ashes. Each family is given a Lenten daily devotional book full of prayers created by children. “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)

Families come up together to receive a blessing, and then the family members place ashes on each other. I stood at a station blessing families, watching them remind each other of their dust-i-ness. As families filed up to the altar, the sanctuary was charged with love, affection, humility, mindfulness and a touch of melancholy.

My spouse approached my station with our sleeping three-month old son in his arms. I started crying while blessing us:

Holy God, we praise you for sending your Son into the world to show us how much you love us. Bless us with your grace and strengthen us in faith, now and always. We ask this in Jesus’ Name. Amen.

I continued crying as I placed my pointer finger into the bowl of ashes and made the sign of the cross on his little forehead:

Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.

Dan and I exchange ashes, and I was filled with gratitude for this life we are given, this moment of consciousness together on earth as the dust brought our mortality undeniably into focus. I was not filled with fear of our dust-i-ness, but filled with wonder of the depth of goodness that occurs between dust and dust.

Just a year ago, I sat by myself during the family service, watching parents place ashes on their children’s foreheads. I didn’t go up to a station to get blessed. I didn’t want to place ashes on myself. I waited for the next service that wasn’t so focused on children. We were living in the grief of two miscarriages, and exhausted, sad and lonely, I leaned hard on God. Alone in the pew, I laid my heart bare to God. It was an Ash Wednesday and Lent that felt comforting, appropriate, raw and honest to me in my melancholy, in my grief. We are dust. We are human. We are dependent, like children, on our God.

I kissed my baby’s warm, soft cheek before they returned to their pew, and my heart sang with joy. Here is this person, given to us to care for for a short time. He is such a gift, and the ashes on his forehead, sitting right between his bright blue eyes on his tiny, innocent face reminded us that there was nothing and now there is something, and that something is so good. It reminded us of our need for God who gives us life now and promises life for us forever.

A New Lent

6 Mar

At my grandparents’ house, yellowed palm leaves were seemingly ever-present behind the silver-framed mirror that hung on the wall near their front door. Immediately after Palm Sunday, the palms would add a splash of green to the mauves and light blues of the room. Yet as the church year wore on, the palms would fade to better match my grandma’s decorating taste. We always knew Lent was approaching when the palms disappeared, returned to my grandparents’ church to be burned into the ashes that would be distributed on Ash Wednesday.

via flickr user Stephen Cummings

via flickr user Stephen Cummings

Seeing the empty space behind my grandparents’ mirror always hit me in the pit of my stomach. I have always loved Advent, the season of joyful preparation for and grateful anticipation of the coming of Christ’s birth. Advent is a season I can nestle into, my excitement for Christmas mounting as the days grow shorter. But if Advent is my favorite church season, Lent is the polar opposite. Rather than a cozy winter’s night, Lent feels more like the desert into which the Spirit drives Jesus in this week’s Gospel—long, barren, desolate, and drab. It is not that I mind abstaining from meat on Fridays; it’s a great excuse to drive through McDonalds for fish fillets and fries. It is more that I do not like the feeling of Lent—the feeling of being down in the mouth, the attitude of being hard on yourself, and the undertone of punishing yourself for your sinful ways.

Lent is a season of conversion, and this year what I want to convert is my attitude toward Lent. I figure that Lent has been around a lot longer than I have, so maybe I just need to learn a little more about it in order to find a new way to approach this season. That is what I am going to do over the next six weeks in this blog. Each week I will consider a topic related to Lent, presenting some information about it as well as some ideas about how that aspect of Lent makes sense in our modern lives.

Recently I read something that already is renewing my attitude toward Lent. The key to understanding the Lenten season is Baptism. On a practical level, Lent is the time when catechumens, that is, those wishing to become part of the Church, prepare for the Sacraments of Initiation—Baptism, Eucharist, and Confirmation—that will be celebrated at the Easter Vigil. For the rest of us, that is, those who already have been baptized into the Church, Lent is a time to renew our baptismal commitments. When I think about Lent as a time to focus intensely on living my baptismal vows, it sounds like something I might be capable of doing.

As you begin the season of Lent, take a minute to think with me about our baptismal vows. How are you living them in your life right now? In what ways are you falling short?

  • Do you reject Satan? And all his works? And all his empty promises?
  • Do you believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth?
  • Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was born of the Virgin Mary, was crucified, died, and was buried, rose from the dead, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father?
  • Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting?

If you answered no to some of these questions, or had questions about the questions (Do people still believe in Satan? Is there really a resurrection of the body?), that might be the place to begin your Lenten journey. Write down the questions you have; find someone you trust to talk to about your questions. Questions are a part of faith; we do not need to be afraid to bring our questions to God in prayer.

If you answered yes to some or all of these questions, then there is another question: are you living these beliefs? If you are anything like me, this is where your Lenten journey begins. I might be able to say I believe all of these things, but…

  • Do I really live as if evil has no power or do I live in fear of evil?
  • Do I put my trust in God the Creator or do I trust in myself more?
  • Do I treat the world and everyone in it as part of God’s good creation?
  • Do I follow the example of Jesus Christ in how I treat others?
  • Do I really live as if Jesus died and was resurrected, ushering the new kingdom of God and releasing a well spring of hope?
  • Do I trust that the Spirit empowers me to follow in Christ’s footsteps?
  • Do I participate in the community of the Church, which includes all the faithful who have lived before us?
  • Do I treat myself as a sinner or as someone whose sins have been and will continue to be forgiven by God?

Spiritual Through Physical

5 Mar
via flickr user jamiesrabbits

via flickr user jamiesrabbits

“As you may know,” my friend wrote me, “it can be challenging to remember the holy and divine.”

I do know. It can be challenging, indeed. She said this in a conversation about remaining kosher. She continued, “Kosher is a way for us to be challenged on a daily mundane scale to give literal food for thought regarding how to obtain some of the holy into our very being. Using the physical to obtain a spiritual goal is something I find fascinating and something shared by both of our religions.”

My belief in getting at the spiritual through the physical is what attracts me to my Jewish brothers and sisters. I am curious about their rituals and chosen restrictions. It is what fascinated me about walking the streets of Nepal– Hindus and Buddhists publicly weaving physical practice into their daily lives. It is what worries me about my young students who walk away from the church without walking toward anything in particular. My faith in practice is also why I love Lent.

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent. For me, since I was very little, Lent has been a treasured time of reflection and refinement. How have I strayed from my best self? How have I given into the default settings of being human– being greedy and thinking I am the center of the universe? How have I given up on the good news? What adjustments can I make to my physical life to be made new spiritually?

This Lent, I am committing to three physical goals that I believe will welcome reflection and refinement. First, I will consume less alcohol, sugar and caffeine. I believe there is a connection between what we put into our bodies and what our bodies are capable of exuding back into the world. My spouse and I make very good, healthy choices about food. But alcohol, sugar and caffeine are three things I do take in that are not nutritious in and of themselves. I am using Lent as a time to check in and make sure I’m not leaning too much on these three items that people can become addicted to. I know my body will feel better, stronger, and more alive with less alcohol, sugar and caffeine to process. I’m interested to see what the spiritual implications of this cleanse will prove to be.

Secondly, I will use my phone as a phone. Ever since I got a smart phone, I have noticed the slippery slope of my dependence to it. My personal ethics around cell phone use has gotten more and more lax. Am I addicted to my phone? I don’t think so, but I want to make sure. Over Lent, I am going to push myself to use my phone to make and receive calls. Period. This means not checking my email on my phone throughout the day. It means leaving it in the next room and not carrying it around with me like it is an extension of myself. It means less screen time and less distraction. It means not having a social crutch to lean on when I am waiting for a friend by myself and admitting that I don’t need to be available to everyone at every moment of the day. I think I will learn a lot about how we use our phones to hide from our own humanity.

Finally, I will keep a gratitude journal. Habits are powerful, and it is just as important to eliminate what takes life away as it is to incorporate what offers life. I’ve noticed that I’ve become a little more bitter and negative. I complain a little bit more than I used to. I believe in acting the way you want to feel. I want to feel more generous and grateful. So each day, I will take a few moments to write down what I am grateful for. Forty days of shifting my focus to gratitude, I hope, will invite renewal and a more permanent shift in focus.

My hope is that these three minor adjustments to what has become my routine will change my daily, mundane reality enough to remind me of the holy and divine right in front of me. The effort and intention it takes to change these practices, I hope, will bring about something new in me. This Lent, how will you get at your spiritual life through your physical life?

%d bloggers like this: