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Lent 2010: Ash Wednesday

Today as I was wasting time on facebook, one of my friends had the following prayer posted:

We offer you our failures. We offer you attempts, the gifts not fully given the dreams not fully drempt, Give our stumblings direction, give our visions wider view. From an offering of ashes, an offering to you.

It is from the Book of Common Prayer, used in many liturgical churches. The simplicity of it really touched me. I have been out of the church loop for a while now. Not the best idea but I never found one here in Ohio that felt like home.

But something about this lenten season beckons me home. I am craving a liturgical experience. I want to pray the prayers saints have been using for centuries. I want go through the ritual of this season steeped in tradition that have drawn people to the cross for ages.

So I have found an online lenten devotional that I will be following for the next six weeks. I think as I transition into the next chapter of my life, back in CA, I need to be focused on the one who knows my days from beginning to end. I need to draw on supernatural strength to find my center again.

I want to be quiet. I want to be reflective. I want to hear what God has to say to me. I am also fully aware of my limitations, needs, sins, attitudes, judgments and other things that keep me from fully entering into Him.

The focus of today, this first day of Lent, is on drawing near to God through confession. As we ponder our own inadequacies we can be humbled to enter into His presence once again. I have much to confess. I am broken in new places. I need Him in new ways. Even praying the prayer of confession makes me feel so naked in a way I haven’t allowed myself to be for a while. I’ve felt I had to bundle back up and protect myself, not allowing even God in to see and comfort.

Yet I know he will meet me there in my fear and trembling. But asking him in close is scary and vulnerable. The psalm for this weeks is Psalm 51 – search and know me to create in me a clean heart. The searching and knowing God does is not to bring guilt or shame, but is to let us know that we are not alone and that he loves us enough to press in and clean it out. It’s not about breaking rules its figuring out what hinders the communication between us.

For Lent I have decided to give up soda, something I have been drinking a lot of lately. I am also committed to being in bed by midnight, instead of 4 a.m., so I can be back on a regular schedule. I am also committed to these devotionals everyday.

I’m excited. This has all happened quite by accident but I know it is a divine appointment for me. I don’t know if I’m going to blog the time or not. I wonder if this isn’t a season when I need to go into the closet and do my worshiping in private. I will perhaps post updates or something, no idea.

Another great place for prayers is – Sacred Space.

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In the pain

For the first time in a while I’m working for a Christian organization and we get half a day off for Good Friday. It seems kind of odd and I feel obligated/ compelled to go to a service.

I do want to go, but I don’t know where to go. I don’t want a traditional service. I don’t want a lot of talking. Am I looking for an experience? It shouldn’t be about me. I’m reminded of the film, The Passion of the Christ, and remember sitting there sobbing through it. I really connected emotionally and physically to what Christ went through so I could be free.

Last year I went to a stations of the cross service that was very “emerging” in nature. They had a station for art, reflection, music, etc. I didn’t really connect through most of it. I think I was trying too hard or something. Toward the end we were asked to list out our sins, then we dipped it in “blood” (red paint) and nailed it to the cross. It was eye-opening to watch the paint drip down and pool at the base of the cross. That is some serious imagery.

But is that the point? Good Friday? What should I be praying? Where should I focus?  What should I think about? I want to fast forward to resurrection Sunday. I want to celebrate and be joyful but today is about the pain, the misery, the sacrifice. As Christians we often tend to want to fast-forward through the process, but we have to live in the mess for a while, suffering through the trail before we get to the celebration. Being in pain, hurting, and suffering doesn’t mean you’re not where you’re supposed to be. It’s not a test, but simply part of life, a consequence of sin.

Oh how that resonates with me. I feel like in certain areas of my life right now I am in the pain. I am fighting through so many emotions and want to push through to happy, but in the depths of where I am now Christ is most real. I have nothing else to hold onto as he disciplines me, heals me and makes me more like Him.

Thank you Christ for the dark night of my soul and knowing it’s not forever.

Lent

I haven’t really decided if I am going to participate in Lent this year or not.

Last year I did and it was an amazing experience. It made me really focus and think about the Easter season more than just on celebration Sunday. It was a rare opportunity to sacrifice something very small (chocolate) in rememberance of what Christ did for me. Every time I craved chocolate it made me stop and think about why I was doing it. As a result I was thinking about God a whole lot more than I usually do, sad to say.

I think a goal of Lent is for us to be more actively aware of God and where he is in our lives. It is a discipline of noticing, stopping to think about Christ and what he means as we go about our normal day. One of my professors said that he had a friend that set an alarm on his watch to beep every hour to remind him to stop and meditate on God for a second or two. He did this for a couple of days I think, minus sleeping hours of course. But he said that he noticed a subtle shift in his orientation and thought process. Think about it, our character is determined by our thoughts. It reflects the core of who we are. What do I usually think about? I don’t think I’d be willing to write out a list of things.

When we get the chance to identify with Christ and participate in something he did, it is an amazing experience, if it’s more than just ritual. Growing up none when I was with my dad’s family we didn’t meat on Friday during lent, but it didn’t mean anything. I didn’t know why. It just meant that we switched to something else. Lent isn’t about self-improvement or self-denial for the sake of it.

Perhaps as humans we are most motivated by the painful, so deprivation is the key to making it meaningful.

In Lent, it’s traditional to give upsomething(s) that we do a lot of and that we find pleasure in. This ‘giving up’ is done :

as a discipline for learning self-control, to free our minds from the chase after material things,

  • as a reminder of Christ’s sufferings and what our true pleasures are as followers of Christ,
  • as an act of sorrow over our sin.Sometimes we don’t notice how certain things we do have gained power over us and dictate our actions. In Lent, we discover these things and give them up so that God can be in charge. Franciscans use the term ‘detachment’ : the less that ‘stuff’ preoccupies your life, the more room there is for God.

Hmmm what is that for me? What would really get my attention – giving up pasta, mexican food, television …

Ash Wednesday

Today is Ash Wednesday.

My extended families are Catholic and I often went with my grandmother to mass but I never went forward to have ashes put on my forehead. It didn’t really mean anything to me, just more tradition.

As I get older and search for the meaning behind the tradition it becomes more enriching an experience to participate in. I found the following explanation that sums it up better than I could.

“Putting ashes on our heads as a form of penitence is a practice inherited from Jewish tradition. In Old Testament times, fast days expressed sorrow for sins and the desire to make atonement to the Father. Ashes, for Jews and Christians alike, are a sign of repentance, sorrow, and mourning.

The King of Nineveh believed the prophecy of Jonah and fasted forty days wearing sackcloth and sitting in ashes to save the city, and ordered the people to do so, too [Jonah 3:4-10]. Jeremiah calls Israel to “wallow in ashes” of repentance [Jeremiah 6:26]. Abraham speaks of being unworthy to speak with God because he is “but dust and ashes” [Gen 2:7] — being man, he is created from dust. Jesus also refers to this symbol in Matthew 11:21, “Alas for you, Chorazin! Alas for you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.”

I have lots to repent for, be sorry about and mourn. Life is hard. There are so many times when I lack the ability and strength to do what I really want to do. So much to think and pray about.

Here’s a good prayer as we begin this holy season.

Lord,
protect us in our struggle against evil.
As we begin the discipline of Lent,
make this day holy by our self-denial.
Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever. +Amen