Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. – Ps 51:11
Today is Ash Wednesday, a day that begins the forty days of Lent season (excluding Sundays) in the Christian calendar. Lent mirrors the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness before beginning his public ministry.
Lent is a season of self-reflection, self-examination, prayer, and fasting as Christians around the world join together to anticipate Easter Sunday.
Ash Wednesday is a day that reminds us of our mortality. Ashes, that come from the palm branches from the last years Palm Sunday, are placed upon the forehead in the sign of a cross while the clergy pronounce:
Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
It may sound strange to think of a day dedicated to recall one’s mortality, but this can be very formative for us as we take time to reflect on the fact that we will all one day pass away. At the very least, it can allow us to become more grateful for every moment we have and for every encounter with have with beauty and with each other. It can also be a time to examine and reflect upon the meaning of our lives.
Traditionally, Christians choose to abstain from something (i.e., fast) during Lent. Some do this as a sign of penance, others as a sign of devotion, and others as a means to create space in their lives to allow God to speak to them. Often, Christians today will engage in a spiritual discipline (e.g., a Lenten devotional or specific spiritual practice such as meditation, journaling etc.)
I have chosen to enter into this season by intentionally engaging in some of these ancient practices. While I do not pretend to know how God always works, I do believe that we can be intentional about spiritual formation by creating space in our lives for the divine to work. Are there ways you can create space by forgoing things in your life? Perhaps things that are not necessarily bad but that either take up a lot of time or energy during your day? Or perhaps there are activities you engage in, either consciously or unconsciously, that distract you from diving more deeply into your own pain or weaknesses? If your like me, you will find it difficult to forego these things because they have become such a habit in our lives. Are you willing to enter into Lent with the intention to create more space to engage in a spiritual practice? I believe by doing this, we increase our sensitivity to God’s work in the world and I think we can expect to be formed in some way – perhaps in unexpected ways!
On this Ash Wednesday, I invite you to reflect upon the following questions, and to see them as invitations for you during this Lent season. Feel free to write a response to any of them, or simply use them as a personal reflection.
- If you have been a part of a tradition that has celebrated Lent, how has this practice influenced you? Has it been positive or negative? Why do you think that is?
- Do you feel invited to enter into a season of fasting? (Ideas on what to fast below.) If so, what have you chosen to abstain from? Why have you chosen this?
- Have you chosen a specific spiritual discipline or practice to help connect you with God or the sacred in greater ways? (If you are interested in a Lenten devotional, I invite you to join us at One Church as we journey through a devotional written by Richard Rohr which you can find here.)
Ideas for fasting:
- Fast from food – once or twice a week (sunrise to sunset).
- Fast from certain kinds of food (e.g., chocolate, alcohol, meat, fast food, etc).
- Fast from social media (ouch, that one hurts!) or choose to look at social media only during select times throughout the day (e.g., 2x’s a day in the morning and evening).
- Fast from TV.
- Fast from the internet (is that even possible?).
- Fast from listening to the radio on the way to/from work to create some silence in your life.
Ideas for spiritual disciplines:
- Lenten devotional
- Meditation or contemplative prayer
- Nature walks
Suggestion to incorporate into your spiritual disciplines:
- Spiritual disciplines can take many different forms, but consider incorporating journaling during this Lenten season. It’s not a diary, but more of a spiritual journal where you can write down what you think, feel, desire, etc. I have found this to be very powerful as I can go back and read things I have written before and see the ways that God has worked in my life that I would have otherwise been unaware of. Spiritual formation most often happens slowly – it is a process. Journaling is a way to keep track of this progress as well as a spiritual practice itself.