Lent, which, literally, means “springtime” is a time of nurturing and preparation. And, like springtime, it is also a time of growth and renewal, a re-greening and bringing back to life of our winter-worn souls. Our forty days of Lent are reminiscent of the forty trying days that Jesus spent in the dry and secluded wilderness as he readied himself for his ministry. In the same way, this is a preparation time for us as we begin that walk toward the cross and into a deeper walk with God.
Joan Chittister says that “Lent is not an event. It is not something that happens to us. It is at most a microcosm of what turns out to be a lifelong journey to the center of the self. The purpose of Lent is to confront us with ourselves in a way that’s conscious and purposeful, that enables us to deal with the rest of life well.” She calls it a “growing season”, rather than a “penitential season”. We are not called to wallow in guilt during this time; we are not necessarily called to deprive ourselves of things we need; we are called to begin to look at things differently.
So on this Ash Wednesday, as we begin this journey, we are called to repentance, to a turning around, to change. People often look upon this day with fear and trembling. It is not meant to be that way. But it is a day that forces us to look at ourselves and our own lives and, perhaps for some of us, that can be a little uncomfortable. Think of it, though, as a threshold that begins a journey into new life, a window to a new way of seeing, and a doorway to a new way of being. It is a time for clearing, a time for preparing the ground for planting; it is a time for breathing out, letting out all the things that stand in the way of your relationship with God, thereby making way to breathe in what God offers. It is the day when we say “here I am, God, just as I am. But I am ready. I am ready to change! I am ready to be renewed and made whole.” And it is the day when we finally admit that we cannot do it alone and that somewhere in the fallow of our lives, God comes in and we are made whole.
So Ash Wednesday is not just a day of morose belittling of ourselves. A rabbi once told his disciples, “Everyone must have two pockets, with a note in each pocket, so that he or she can reach into the one or the other, depending on their needs. When feeling high and mighty one should reach into the left pocket, and find the words: “Ani eifer v’afar; I am dust and ashes. But when feeling lowly and depressed, discouraged or without hope, one should reach into the right pocket, and, there, find the words: “Bishvili nivra ha’olam…For my sake the world was created.”
Lent is not about giving things up; it is about emptying your life that you may be filled. Lent is not about going without; it is about making room for what God has to offer. And this beginning of Lent is not about clothing yourself in the morbidness of your humanity; it is about embracing who you are before God.
So go toward the Cross and embrace the you that God is breathing in!
Grace and Peace,