The website churchyear.net says this about the season of Lent:
The purpose of Lent is to be a season of fasting, self-denial, Christian growth, penitence, conversion, and simplicity. Lent can be viewed as a spiritual ‘spring cleaning’: a time for taking spiritual inventory and then cleaning out those things which hinder our corporate and personal relationships with Jesus Christ and our service to him. Thus it is fitting that the season of Lent begin with a symbol of repentance: placing ashes mixed with oil on one’s head or forehead. However, we must remember that our Lenten disciplines are supposed to ultimately transform our entire person: body, soul, and spirit. Our Lenten disciplines are supposed to help us become more like Christ. Eastern Christians call this process theosis, which St. Athanasius aptly describes as “becoming by grace what God is by nature.”
This year Ash Wednesday occurs on 3/9 (yep… next week). Traditionally, churches hold evening services in which all people are called to remember our mortality and imperfections on the one hand, and called to hope in God’s promise for new life on the other hand. In the rememberance, ashes are placed on our forehead. Ashes are an ancient and Biblical symbol of ‘being sorry’ or feeling sadness, grief, depression, or lack of fulfillment. In the call to hope we celebrate healing, communion, and prayer together. We also inspire ourselves to take on Lenten Disciplines, or practices suited to remind us of the need to do spiritual ‘spring cleaning’, and to help us chart a closer faith walk with God and others during Lent and beyond.
This Ash Wednesday we will be reflecting on the Lenten Disciplines as they appear in Matthew’s Gospel (6:1-6):
Jesus said, “Beware of practicing your religion before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from God. “So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and God who sees in secret will reward you.
“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to God who is in secret; and God who sees in secret will reward you.
“And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
The Lenten Disciplines are prayer, giving alms (donating to those in need), and fasting. Over the next three blog reflections we will look at each one in detail. What they share in common, and by way of introduction, is their commitment to simplicity and sacrifice. Our lives can get very complex and very self-centered. Prayer, reminds us that we are not in control and that we need to build connection and relationship with God. Giving alms reminds us that we ‘have’ while others ‘have not’ and we should express our thanks for the blessings God has given by giving to others. And fasting reminds us of the many cravings and excesses that mark our lives. When the hunger of fasting sets in, we remember how fragile we really are.
I hope we all take the opportunity this Lent to discover ourselves and God’s will for our lives.
As a practical way of beginning the journey of faith today… take a quiet moment to sit in silence or calmness of mind. Instead of speaking prayer (in your mind or out loud), focus on the silence and calmness. This is a great way to short-circuit our crazy minds. The more moments we take each day to do this… the more silence and calmness we will have. The more silence and calmness we have, the more we may have clarity and experience the presence of God.
Or, if you are a musical soul, use this song as a springboard for prayer: Change My Heart Oh God