Monday, February 20, 2012

Ashes to Ashes

This coming Wednesday, February 22, will mark the beginning of the season of Lent.   On this day, Ash Wednesday, many will attend a church service where ashes, which come from burnt palms from the previous year's Palm Sunday, will be distributed.  Making a sign of the cross with the ashes on each person's forehead, the priest, pastor, elder or whomever is permitted in the particular church to do so, will repeat these words:

"Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return." 

The meaning behind the distribution of ashes and those words is to remind us of our own mortality and our own sinfulness, while calling us to repentance.  Many people will leave the ashes on their foreheads for the entire day as a symbol of humility.  

Lent is also a season that centers around fasting, generally from a particular food, drink or even an activity, for the forty days before Easter.  Growing up in my former faith denomination, when Lent came around, we were required to fast from something.  So for me at that time, this was merely a ritual I took part in because I HAD to, it was just what you did (or else).  But author Lynn Baab, author of 'Fasting,' speaks of fasting like this:

"We remove something habitual so we can experience something new.  We long for the fullness of God's presence, so we remove something from our life for a season in order to get a glimpse of God, through prayer, in a new way."

At that time, I had no true understanding or view of Lent as being a way for me to draw closer to the heart of God, or as a way of something new about Him being revealed to me. Again, it was simply a tradition to be followed. 

For instance, with regards to Lenten fasting, I’d give up chocolate candy (my personal childhood favorite, which continues to be a guilty pleasure of mine) for those forty days, whine about it the whole time and then on Easter Sunday, I’d gorge myself on chocolate bunnies and chocolate eggs until I made myself sick. The condition of my heart, however, remained unchanged: cold, hard, shallow, dark, sinful.  Jesus just wasn’t the priority in my life that He should have been -- and longed to be.  He became merely a blip on my Sunday morning church's or Wednesday afternoon catechism class's radar screen. The beautifully, sorrowful figure of a Man that actor Jeffrey Hunter portrayed in "King of Kings."

Meanwhile, in my warped view, God was that heavenly Father figure Who was always trying to catch me in some act of disobedience and of Whom I was completely terrified, while the Holy Spirit remained this mysterious, ghostly figure to me. Casper sanctified. 

So I did my Lenten duty like the good girl that I was and checked the box "Done" forty days later. My parents were pleased. The teachers from my catechism classes were pleased. But....was the Lord pleased? I’m thinking not so much.

Yes, over the years, Lenten fasting sadly turned out being a torturous duty and drudgery for me; certainly not something I looked forward to and delighted in doing.  Also, for me, there was an underlying theme of fear running through it, especially if one had the misfortune of forgetting oneself and accidentally popped a forbidden food or drink into one's mouth in the midst of the Lenten season.

True confession time here, dear readers.  Once, during Lent, when I was twelve years old, I went to lunch with my older cousin, Charlene.  She ordered a few slices of pizza for herself, while I, not in the mood for pizza,  decided to order an Italian hot dog (and for those of you not from NJ and unfamiliar with this delicacy, it is a hot dog on an Italian roll, smothered with peppers, onions and potatoes). 

It wasn't until after I'd inhaled every last tasty morsel and we were both standing in the parking lot, ready to leave, that the harsh and frightening realization set in:

I had just eaten meat on a Friday during Lent!  

And -- not just ANY  Friday.

But Good Friday!!!!!! 

Needless to say, I became hysterical.  I waited for the skies above to immediately cloud over, for thunder to roar loudly and for God Himself to appear to personally hurl down a hand picked lightening bolt straight at my sinful, preteen head.  Or for the ground to dramatically split open around me, swallow me up and send me hurtling down the fast lane on the Highway to Hell, where I was surely headed after this major Lenten gaffe. 

I tearfully begged my cousin NOT to tell my parents what I had done, how low I had fallen, as I imagined them possibly disowning me or my getting to be the first in my family to be excommunicated from our church.  I feared I'd done what a friend of mine's family (who was rumored to have Mafia ties) used to laughingly warn him not to do: 'Don't disgrace the family.'

I can laugh about this whole scenario now, but really, it's kind of pathetic, because truly, this is NOT how our Father, Who loves us so much, wants us to perceive Him and react towards Him (like some angry, Holy Cop wielding His Divine taser gun), and it's most certainly NOT the way He wants us to view the season of Lent and our place within it.

So, now that I'm older and (hopefully) wiser, what does the season of Lent mean for me? What do I need to take away from or to add to my life, allowing me to focus more intently and joyfully and seriously on my Jesus? How can I prepare myself to hear His voice more clearly, to better understand and to accept anew His messages to me of His unconditional, unfailing love, His amazing grace, His perfect peace, His new-every-day mercies, His complete forgiveness?

Tomorrow, I look forward to being able to share some thoughts and insights with you all about this.  I hope you'll stop by.

1 comment:

  1. An Italian hot dog, huh? Wow. The things I never learned as an Italian Girl. Oh well...I do love the idea of Lent, for focusing on Jesus more and more and seeking him anew. But, truly I like this all year as well! Thanks for sharing. Love the imagery. And I also have a strange craving for an Italian Hot Dog...kinda. I bet New York Italians came up with that.


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