Ash Wednesday: Beginning the Lenten Journey

Lent

What will you give up for the season,
To help life along
In its curious reversals?
As if we had a choice.
As if the world were not
Constantly shedding us
Like feathers off a duck’s back –
The ground is always littered with our longings.

You can’t help but wonder
About all the heroes,
The lives sacrificed
In the compulsion toward the good.
All those who dropped themselves
Upon the earth’s hard surface –
Weren’t they caught in pure astonishment
In the breath before they shattered?
Forget sacrifice.
Nothing is tied so firmly that the wind
Won’t tear it from us at last.
The question is how to remain faithful
To all the impossible,
Necessary resurrections.

-Lynn Ungar

“Listen to the long stillness:
New life is stirring
New dreams are on the wing
New hopes are being readied:
Humankind is fashioning a new heart
Humankind is forging a new mind
God is at work.
This is the season of Promise.”

-Howard Thurman

Ash Wednesday is a day of confronting our mortality through the symbol of ashes, beginning to strip away our comforts, and embarking on the archetypal journey into the desert that is an essential part of conversion.  Conversion is the process of discovering that God is always much bigger than we imagined and our own attempts at filling out lives with things and busyness and power look so very small in comparison. The paradox of this movement is that while we are releasing our hold on all manner of things it may feel a bit like death.  And yet, what Lynn Ungar and Howard Thurman write to us about is the life and promise at the heart of this process.

Even now, says the LORD,
return to me with your whole heart,
with fasting, and weeping, and mourning;
Rend your hearts, not your garments,
and return to the LORD, your God.

-Joel 2:12-13

This Lent I am definitely being called to some fasting, some stripping aside of patterns and habits that have not been life-giving.  I am longing for some simplification as my days have become a bit too full lately and my own prayer time has gotten squeezed aside.  The thing that sustains me the most has become relegated to my list of things to get done, but somehow keeps getting shoved to the bottom of the list.

Prayer, of course, is not a “to do”, it is a “to be”.  And much of my life is lived with a continuous awareness of the ways the sacred pulses through my conversations, my most meaningful relationships, the trees that lift their own arms in prayer.  Each bite of food I eat is an act of communion, binding me to all who are sustained in physical nourishment for work in the world and also binding me to those who go hungry, demanding that I not take food for granted.  A shower becomes an act of blessing , standing under a rush of holy water, I am baptized for the day ahead.

Essential for me to be able to sustain this awareness is to have time for practice, time when I sit in stillness and listen deeply to the threads that are being woven together in me.  This is the time that I have allowed to become dispersed and I hear the prophet say “Return to me with your whole heart” and I say “yes, yes, yes”!  And I have to make some difficult choices of stripping away the things that have been getting in my way, and that can indeed feel a bit like death.  But it also feels like life, like the first day of brilliant sunshine after a record of drizzly days, like promise and resurrection.

Easter is the season we are preparing for, the season when resurrection comes in the story.  What we may forget is that Lent is filled with its own small resurrections, the kind that emerge when we decide to return with our whole hearts, when we let the burden of exhaustion slip from our shoulders and surrender into the arms of a God who loves us for who we are rather than what we do.

So I am fasting this season ahead, from unnecessary driving, from wasting food, from sitting myself down at the computer in the morning before I have had my time to practice listening for the song being sung to me in my own heart, a song that has been carried through generations. From pushing myself through an afternoon when I really need a nap, I will be napping for Lent.  And praying.  And challenging myself to become aware of all the habits I get into when life is full. I will be practicing my lectio divina as a way to notice the sacred movements shimmering in everything.

I will still be blogging during this season ahead, but I will be fasting from the wonderful Poetry Parties and Sacerd Artist Interviews for this time so that I can return to them in the Easter season with a renewed vision.  My posts will be simpler, sparer perhaps, and in the process I hope with more clarity.

So make sure to visit this week’s Poetry Party and share in the amazing poems about the season ahead that help keep us tethered to promise.  And then share your vision.

What are the practices you are committing to for the Lenten season?

(c) Christine Valters Paintner at Abbey of the Arts:
Transformative Living through Contemplative & Expressive Arts

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