ashes

All of Life is Repentance, But Especially Today

Photo by Andrew Stutesman / CreationSwap.com
Photo by Andrew Stutesman / CreationSwap.com

Seven years ago this week, I had my “come to Jesus” moment.

That’s not to say that over the past few years I haven’t had many experiences in which I’ve come away wondering “did I ever really believe up until now?” Many of those moments were far more profound and life-changing. It’s just that for me, it’s where a certain chapter of my life began.

I was raised in a Christian tradition that prized altar calls and bowing your heads, closing your eyes, and raising your hands to be saved. There was a clear delineator of when you were “born again” and when you were not. It was a moment in history, not just a spiritual exercise.

I don’t totally disagree. I think that there is something significant about the moment you first say yes, the same way I can remember the first time my best friend and I stopped just being colleagues. Our friendship has had many more important moments, but going to see Alice in Wonderland after work on a rainy Monday evening in March was where it started.

But as I have persisted (persevered for you Calvinists) in this faith I’ve discovered more and more what a relationship with God is like. In order for it to work, as Martin Luther famously said, all of life must be repentance. Every day the choice to say “yes” and not “no, I’m so done with this” is just as significant, if not more because coming to Jesus is often easier than staying.

Ashes of Hope: My Love of Lent but Not of Murder on a Cross

Blooming magnolia tree, Gyuszko-Photo / Shutterstock.com
Blooming magnolia tree, Gyuszko-Photo / Shutterstock.com

Even the winter won’t last forever. We’ll see the morning, we’ll feel the sun.
We’ll wake up in April, ready and able, Sowing the seeds in the soil.
Even the darkness cannot disarm us. We’ll see the morning, we’ll feel the sun.

-Audrey Assad

Easter is what many would argue to be the quintessential turning point of the Christian faith. The crux. The climax of the story. The thing that you must be able to articulate into carefully formed sentences depicting your belief, as though words and theology solely define your spirituality and very existence. Perhaps from all of this lies the basis for the trite messages that I, along with so many others, have heard about the Christian faith. “Jesus died for your sins.” “Jesus paid the debt.” “Jesus stood in your place and died for you so that you might have life.”

And if those words bear truth and meaning to you, I have not come to take them away, nor discredit them.

It’s just not the Jesus I’ve come to know, face-to-face in my human spiritual struggle.

Ash Wednesday: How Fasting and Prayer Could Change Us — and Our Country

Photo by Jeff Pioquinto, SJ / Flickr.com
Photo by Jeff Pioquinto, SJ / Flickr.com

Today is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. I grew up in a small evangelical church that only paid attention to the Christian calendar on Christmas and Easter. But over many years now, I have learned to celebrate the richness of all the Christian seasons from my friends in more liturgical traditions and from marrying a Church of England priest!

Lent offers us the much-needed spiritual preparation for Easter. Ash Wednesday is the place to begin; and that often includes fasting — in different ways and traditions. At Sojourners, we usually have a big staff pancake breakfast on Shrove Tuesday morning, the day before Ash Wednesday. But today, many of us are fasting.

Ash Wednesday doesn’t begin a hunger strike, but rather a season of self-examination, spiritual reflection, repentance, sacrifice, and focused prayer. Lent is a time to examine our hearts and lives, to acknowledge our sins, to look for the ways we are not choosing the gospel or welcoming those whom Jesus calls us to.

At the River We Stand

FROM THE RIVER to the rope. From the creek to the cross. From the dove and a "voice from above" to death by state execution and profound silence.

This is Lent. This is the Jesus Road, the Christian way. O Lord, how can we follow you?

Lent is time of remembering ourselves. In the ancient church, those preparing for baptism were publicly challenged: Do you renounce your bondage to Master Satan? Do you reject the slave-mind and all its glamour and subtle temptations? Will you allow Christ to buy your freedom?

The catechumen turned to face the east and the dawn, answering: "I give myself up to thee, O Christ, to be ruled by thy precepts."

It is Lent. We go down to the river to pray. We step into the waters of repentance. We surface as a new creature in Christ. From that moment onward, we imprint on Jesus. This is our survival strategy as newborn disciples. We follow him, like ducklings behind their mother.

After his baptism in the Jordan River, Jesus is driven straight out—into the unloved places, into the wilderness. There he is pricked by demons to toughen him up. He is being prepared. He must look into his own despair. Satan is the supreme surgeon for separating us from our hope.

This too is Lent. Staring into the face of our existential desperation. We also are being prepared, forced to release our grip on hope. All the life-scenes are smoky grey, splayed across canvas from an uncertain light source. How can we stand? We just do. We follow Jesus. Even if we do it with a thousand-yard stare.

We reach into our fast-ravaged gut and find bread to share. We mix honey and oil as a salve for the sores on the soles of the lost. We carry bitter tears to the house of the one who is weeping. We listen—even when all we hear is silence. And follow him.

"This, then, is our desert," writes Thomas Merton, "to live facing despair, but not to consent. To trample it down under hope in the Cross."

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The Only Way Out is Through (A Lenten Reflection)

Dark forest path, andreiuc88 / Shutterstock.com
Dark forest path, andreiuc88 / Shutterstock.com

A day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness!

-Joel 2:2

Who in their right mind looks forward to Lent? Seven weeks of preparation to lead up to Good Friday hardly seems like an enjoyable way to spend our time.

Why not work on those New Year’s resolutions that have already been slipping instead? How about some more quality time with the family? What good, after all, can come from dwelling on darkness and death for more than forty days?

How about we all just agree to skip Lent this year and just get back together on Easter, okay?

Ashes and Hope

Tree in a field, verevkin / Shutterstock.com
Tree in a field, verevkin / Shutterstock.com

Lent is a time when we try to identify with our own weakness, so since we are about to start the Church’s penitent season, it was shocking to read Virgilio Elizondo’s account of how a people generally considered weak on the geopolitical stage – poor Mexicans and Chicanos – do not treat Ash Wednesday as a day of penitence at all.

“For the masses of the people, it has little to do with the beginning of Lent. Lent as a season of self-sacrifice is not really of special interest to the people: the entire year is a time of suffering and abnegation. On Ash Wednesday Mexican-Americans renew their cultic communion with mother earth. For them the earth has always been sacred and they retain a fundamental identity with it. The earth supports and regenerates life; itis life.”

What a beautiful and unexpected connection!

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