I have been meditating on a quote this week:
“In this world, when you are chosen, you know that somebody else is not chosen. When you are the best, you know that somebody else is not the best. When you win and receive a prize, you know there is somebody who lost. But this is not so in the heart of God. If you are chosen in the heart of God, you have eyes to see the chosenness of others. If the love of God blesses you, you have eyes to see the blessedness of others.”
In the Christian tradition Ash Wednesday is a day of repentance. As I have made one Ash Wednesday joke after another this week, I realized that Ash Wednesday and Lent have really got a bad name. According to the synoptic gospels, Jesus fasted for forty days in the desert being tempted. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, a 40-day period of prayer and fasting or abstinence. (If you look at the calendar there are actually 46 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter but liturgically the 6 Sundays during Lent don’t count.) Ash Wednesday is traditionally celebrated with the marking of foreheads with ashes as a reminder of our mortality, and as a sign of mourning and repentance to God. The discipline of “giving up” something for Lent is a traditional sign of repentance. So no wonder Lent has a bad name—who really wants to give up sweets and be reminded of their own sinfulness?
On the other hand, when we are reminded of our own mortality—of how precious and short life is—who does not want to live differently. Each time a young person dies or we lose a close friend to cancer, we know that life can be all too painfully short and that every day is a gift. We remember to make each day count. Repent literally means to “turn around,” and I can think of a few aspects of my life that might need a U-turn, some of which I have control over and some of which I have less. Some of the disciplines I have the willpower to accomplish and others do seem possible at this time. But life is too short to accomplish all of the spiritual disciplines and modern life seems so busy it is even hard to slow down.
For me Ash Wednesday is also a day that I remember I am a child of God, and I remember that we all are children of God. We all struggle with the finitudes of human life and the ups and downs, the mountaintops and the valley of life, but what matters most is the way we treat each other and the way we honor the created-ness of others.
I hope this Lent that it is a journey for you no matter what your practice or lack thereof. And I have already reminded one colleague today, Sundays don’t technically count, so we can all have dessert on Sundays!