Wednesday, February 17, 2010

To Glow in the Darkness

The last couple of years, I attended the Ash Wednesday service at my church.  It was a service that I had never gone to before, and really didn't understand, but I'm in the handbell choir, and we were playing during the service, so there I was.  It ended up being one of the most powerful services I've ever attended.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.  

First, what on earth is Ash Wednesday anyway?  That was the question I was thinking in my head, but too embarrassed to ask.  I'd heard of 'giving up for Lent' but never really understood it, or the reasons behind it.  I had absolutely no idea of how Ash Wednesday related to any of that either.

Ash Wednesday is the beginning of the 40 days leading up to Easter.  This is called Lent.
According to Wiki,    People may decide to observe Lent by giving up a favorite food or drink (e.g. chocolate, alcohol) or activity (e.g., going to the movies, playing video games, etc.) for Lent, or they may instead take on a Lenten discipline such as devotions, volunteering for charity work, and so on.  Today, some people give up a vice of theirs, add something that will bring them closer to God, and often give the time or money spent doing that to charitable purposes or organizations.

I still didn't get it.  What does giving up my morning coffee have to do with getting closer to God?  This seemed like one of those odd, it's-just-the-way-we-do-it, rituals to me, until I attended that first Ash Wednesday service.  Then it all clicked.  During the service, we were all asked to write down a few things that we would like to change about ourselves.  Things that were standing in our way to becoming the person God intends for us to be.   I think wrote down something like 'not worrying so much' and 'being a better, less frustrated mom'.  (It was the beginning of my search for balance even back then before I had a name for it in my head.)

Then, we came up to the front one by one with our little scraps of paper.  And we each took our paper to the candle flame, set it afire, and dropped it in a plate to turn to ash.  Physically, visually, giving up those things we had written.  Bringing ourselves closer to God.
The service continued, and included us once again coming up to the front, to recieve the ashes on our foreheads. Again, I didn't get it.  And I wish I could remember what the pastor said as he used the ashes to draw a cross on my forehead.  It was so, so powerful.  The most powerful moment I've ever had in church.   I can clearly picture his face, and remember exactly how I felt, how I felt almost as if God himself was reaching out through the pastor to me, marking me as a child of God, but can't for the life of me recall the words.   But the message was this:  Lent is about giving up something that separates us from God.  Not your morning coffee, or an afternoon piece of chocolate.  Something bigger and more important than that.  And Ash Wednesday is the reminder when you give that up, when you turn it to ash, you rise up from those ashes, and get just a little closer to God.   At least, for me, that is what Ash Wednesday and Lent are all about.

So, what am I giving up this year?  I'm giving up the clutter and chaos in my house.   It keeps me from being as good as I could be for my family, it frustrates me, and it takes up too much of my time that I could use for better things.  Gone!  To ashes!  I commit to turning at least one pile/drawer/cabinet full of clutter 'into ashes' each day during Lent.  Check back on Easter and I'll let you know how much of a difference it's made!

But, wait!   There's more!!  Again, I'm thankful for this blog, because in writing it I stumbled across this site, which says:  Lent is not all about giving things up. It's also about adding good things to our lives or to others' lives -- the kind of good things that follow on what Jesus asks of us.  Click on that link for ways to add things for Lent.

I'm going to use a couple of those ideas myself.  I will:

Do acts of kindness for people daily, just because the opportunity's there
give them little tastes of God's love.
Spend time daily appreciating the beauty of nature that makes me feel close to God
(Pictures to come, stay tuned!)
Use yoga and prayer as a way to worship daily
(More about how I see yoga as worship coming soon!)

Isaiah 58:6-12 (The Message)
 6-9"This is the kind of fast day I'm after:
   to break the chains of injustice,
   get rid of exploitation in the workplace,
   free the oppressed,
   cancel debts.
What I'm interested in seeing you do is:
   sharing your food with the hungry,

   inviting the homeless poor into your homes,
   putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad,

   being available to your own families.
Do this and the lights will turn on,
   and your lives will turn around at once.
Your righteousness will pave your way.
   The God of glory will secure your passage.
Then when you pray, God will answer.
   You'll call out for help and I'll say, 'Here I am.'

A Full Life in the Emptiest of Places

 9-12"If you get rid of unfair practices,
   quit blaming victims,
   quit gossiping about other people's sins,

If you are generous with the hungry
   and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out
Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness,
   your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight.
I will always show you where to go.
   I'll give you a full life in the emptiest of places—
   firm muscles, strong bones.
You'll be like a well-watered garden,
   a gurgling spring that never runs dry.
You'll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew,
   rebuild the foundations from out of your past.
You'll be known as those who can fix anything,
   restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate,
   make the community livable again.

What will you give up or add for Lent?

May you be blessed today, during this season of Lent,  
and every day.


SomeGirl said...

I've never understood Ash Wednesday or Lent either. Last year I jokingly gave up laundry. ;) But this year I'm going to really think about it... starting tonight. I may just have my own Ash Wednesday service at home. Thanks, Shell!

SomeGirl said...

... I've decided to give up negative words about my boys for lent.

Shell said...

I celebrated at home and at yoga too!