Lent begins with the starkness of Ash Wednesday. On Ash Wednesday we face our mortality and the limits of our earthborn existence. Ashes are smeared on our forehead as we hear the solemn words spoken: “You are dust and to dust you shall return.” It is not hard to make the connection with the words often said at the burial of the dead: “Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”
Ash Wednesday falls at a time when our cars, sidewalks, and windows are caked with the accumulated dirt and grime of winter, awaiting the cleansing rains of spring. As we turn to God for mercy, we ask God to wash away our sins and to create in us clean hearts. Like the earth tilting toward the sun, we return to the Lord, who is slow to anger and abounds in steadfast love.
The imposition of ashes indeed feels like an imposition, a stark warning that we will not live forever. It is a humbling reminder of our limits and finitude as human beings. Ashes do not just symbolize mortality, though; anciently, they also stood for cleansing and were used to enrich the soil for better growth. Thus, the ‘imposing’ imposition of ashes is also an invitation to embark on a profound spiritual journey that will lead us from death to the waters of rebirth and the new life of resurrection. Our Lenten pilgrimage is with our forebears in the faith, the Christian community today, and people around the world preparing to be baptized or to renew their baptismal vows at Easter.
A Lenten Prayer of Transformation “The Life-Giving Lattice of the Ordinary” David Long-Higgins, Conference Minister, Heartland Conference UCC This Lent, O Love, Has heaved a heaviness. It has shown shadows before unknown. Wonder has turned Into worry At warp speed. So slow me down. In the midst of This extraordinary time, Grant me the grace Of noticing Your continual arrival Revealed in the life-giving Lattice of the ordinary. Let it be as light As the sun Falling on Whatever it will In the morning. As Your light reveals The gift of the hidden, Let me also lightly, In word and silence, Tend the gift Of this day And the holy intersections Which already await me. Begin again, Your work and way Of love in me. Redraw the lines Of despair and drudgery With delight. Yes, Love, Let it be so...