Happy Lent

Last night, the anchor on our local news said that many Christians around the world were celebrating Ash Wednesday. It struck me as an odd choice of words. Do we really “celebrate” Ash Wednesday? It’s a day of repentance – a day to remember that we were created from dust and to dust we will return – a day to be humble. Ash Wednesday kicks off the liturgical season of Lent, which is 40 days (plus Sundays) that Christians observe to prepare for Easter through prayer, penance, repentance, almsgiving, and self-denial.

Sounds like a party to me!

“Don’t need nothin’ – but Contrition”
(sung to the tune of the Poison song, Nothin’ but a Good Time.)

Many Christians traditionally give something up for Lent; like carbonated beverages, chocolate, or desserts. Others add something to their routine; like an additional bible study, devotional, or prayer. Some attend special Ash Wednesday services where they may participate in a ritual of receiving the mark of ashes on their foreheads as a sign of repentance and mourning. All of this is an effort to get their hearts and minds focused on the upcoming Holy Day of Easter, or the celebration of the resurrection of Christ. (THAT I can understand referring to as a celebration!)

Here’s the thing though: All of this is great, as long as you remember that it’s a human device – a ritual designed and perpetuated by imperfect people. In the end, God isn’t going to ask if you observed Lent properly, or call you out on eating a Reece’s Peanut Butter Cup after giving up chocolate for 40 days. That isn’t what’s important to Him.

What He ultimately wants from us is exactly what He has always wanted: for us to love Him with all of our hearts, minds, and souls – and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

And if observing Lent or Ash Wednesday in whatever way we think is necessary helps us to do that – then that’s exactly what we should do.

I went to Ash Wednesday service last night, received the mark of ashes, and prayed a little extra. I am doing a couple of extra devotionals for the time being. I will be reading and writing more intentionally for spiritual reasons. I might even deny myself something that I really like. And I encourage you to do those kinds of things too. But I mostly encourage you to (as they say around Christmas) remember the reason for the season.

Prayer for the beginning of Lent:

Lord, help us to use whatever rituals and devices that we choose to do nothing more than strengthen our commitment to you, our families, our churches, our communities, and our world. Help us to love you more, and to learn how to love your people.

Amen.

Good Friday & Earth Day

I wanted to write a post today about Good Friday and how we all experience our own personal Good Fridays in relation to a tragic, devastating event that leads to resurrection or a new chapter in the book of our own lives. It was going to be epic (trust me). Unfortunately, I am in the midst of writing two papers for school that are due Sunday and Monday respectively. So, I just don’t have the time.

Instead, I have decided to post a few pictures from our recent trip to the Memphis Botanic Garden in honor of Earth Day. Which, in its own way, is a much more convincing testimony to the wonder and awesomeness of God than my words could ever be.

Love & Peace to all on this holiest weekend of the year!

How Does It Work?

I will admit, in my youth I could be pretty sneaky. I was very quiet – a severe introvert – and honestly enjoyed time alone with my own thoughts and imagination. To be honest, it was not hard to hide because my brother was the opposite. He was ADD and (I don’t mean this to be disrespectful) was kind of hard to ignore.

The problem was that many of my toys – especially electronic things like cassette players – were always in danger of being broken beyond repair. See, I liked to take things apart. I liked to try to make things do stuff that they weren’t necessarily designed to do. And other times I tried to fix them while actually tearing them up worse. I liked to dissect machines and see why they worked the way they did. It proved to be hours upon hours of constructive fun for me – and a source of aggravation for my parents who didn’t understand why my things were always broken.

Occasionally I would even branch out beyond the things that were mine and take apart my brother’s things, dad’s tools, or random electronics lying around the house. I remember specifically splicing some wires of an old CB radio together and plugging them into the wall in my bedroom, which quickly filled the room with rancid smelling smoke. Not exactly the outcome I was looking for – but kind of cool just the same.

Thanks to Nickelodeon’s Mr. Wizard I also made a hotdog cooker out of two forks and an old extension cord cut in half. It worked too! Maybe it was a little bit dangerous (DUH!) but it was awesome.

Brokenness was just part of my life. A part of my life that I accepted – even embraced. And as I have gotten older I have come to realize that it is part of everyone’s life. We are not perfect beings. We are all tragically and profoundly flawed and broken.

We love and we hate.

We laugh and we cry.

We sin and we repent.

But unlike me – who rarely fixed anything or got it back in working order – God is a capable and skilled repairman. He can take the shards of our broken lives and piece them back together in the most beautiful and glorious way, no matter how well He knows that we will probably just shatter them into a million pieces again eventually.

God’s grace makes us whole again and gives us hope. And sometimes He even plugs our bare wires directly into the power source, and allows us to boldly shine His light into the darkness of the world around us. As bizarre as it may sound – I am thankful for the time I have spent broken. Because without my brokenness, I would never have known the healing, restoring power of God’s love.

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” [Psalm 147:3]

remember that thou art dust

I suppose many people – especially non-Catholics – have conflicting concepts about what Ash Wednesday is or why we – especially Protestants such as me – would celebrate it. I have done my share of struggling with it in the past too. It is not the most welcoming of holy days. Let’s smear some ashes on our foreheads to remind us of our mortality and our sinful natures. Uh… how about we don’t.

I do not need to be reminded that I am a sinner – that we are all sinners. And as I get older I certainly do not need to be reminded that I am going to eventually die.

Or do I?

The tradition of Ash Wednesday is derived from the biblical practice of using dust and ashes to symbolically express remorse for sins and as an outward sign of repentance. (See Job 42:3-6, or Daniel 9:3). Plus we get the added bonus of being reminded of our impending death, “Remember that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return” (Genesis 3:19).

For many years I only thought of Ash Wednesday as the first day of Lent. Lent is the 40 days (not counting Sundays) that lead up to that most holy of holy days on the Christian calendar, Easter Sunday. This is the time that we are traditionally asked to give something up – to fast from something specific as an act of penance. Often times in today’s society people try to give up something that they perceive as a vice; like coffee, chocolate, fried foods, or red meat because they see it as a way to eliminate a barrier between themselves and God.

Personally I find it more edifying to take something on rather than give something up. In the last few years during Lent I have attempted to take on more study, prayer, acts of kindness, etc. And this year is no exception. This year I plan to participate in our Conference’s Lenten devotional series every morning, as well as read more scripture especially at night. I am also going to try to pray more and blog at least weekly about my Lenten journey or something else of a spiritual nature. And finally my wife and I plan on taking care of our temples during this time by walking for more exercise at least three days a week. Sounds simple enough, right?

Actually – as I read through this list I am thinking, “I should be doing these things all of the time – not just during Lent”. And I guess personally I hope that forty days is enough to make some of these things more of a habit.

So as we “celebrate” Ash Wednesday to kick off this season of repentance and self-denial in preparation for Holy Week, my prayer is that through it all we all learn to walk closer with God, to remove the things that stand in between Him and us, and to experience His amazing grace.

Like the words of the praise chorus, Lord prepare me to be a sanctuary - Pure and Holy – Tried and True…

An Easter Miracle

We have all seen the miraculous sightings on television or the interweb, some would say coincidences, of religious figures in everyday items, like Jesus in a pancake:

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Or the Virgin Mary on a grilled cheese sandwich:

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Or even the infamous “Nun Bun”:

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But now the phenomenon has presented itself to me, one of the biggest skeptics of such things. Perhaps for no other reason than to convince me of their existence. On the North wall inside the sanctuary of my church, right in front of where I normally sit, the old plaster wall is starting to crack. The cracking has caused the paint to chip and fall off in chunks. We didn’t think too much about it, until finally during morning service two Sundays ago, we noticed this…

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That’s right! During the Lenten season, just before Easter, God gave us… a Chocolate Bunny!

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It’s my own personal Easter Miracle! (Now if only it were made of solid Dove dark chocolate…)

Better start your pilgrimage now people!

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skeptics!

Lenten Prayer – Good Friday

Almight God,

we ask you to look with mercy on your family

for whom our Savior Jesus Christ was willing

to be betrayed,

to be given over to the hands of sinners,

and to suffer death on the cross;

who now lives and reigns with you

and the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever.

Amen.

(Reprinted from the UCC Book of Worship.)

 

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Thank you for allowing me to share with you these prayers throughout this season of Lent. Honestly, it was mostly for my benefit during my own Lenten journey. I feel like it helped me reconnect spiritually which I guess was the whole point of this exercise as I have been waning in that area of my life lately. So, for whatever its worth, Thanks!

Have a wonderful Easter and may God bless you and your families!

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Lenten Prayer – Maundy Thursday

lastsupper_.jpgThis is a wonderfully appropriate yet dark prayer for Maundy Thursday posted by Reverend Mommy in 2005, titled Tonight is a Night of Darkness. But Maundy or Holy Thursday really is a dark and melancholy day when put into the perspective of the Passion. And tomorrow is even darker. But it always gets darker before the dawn, doesn’t it?

Tonight is a night of darkness.
We gather it together like gauze and wrap our souls in it.
Tonight is a night of final things.
We gather together in the darkness and hold hands for one last meal.
Tonight is a night of water.
We gather together to cleanse and prepare.
Tonight is a night of tears.
We gather together and pray that the tears can wash away the betrayal yet
tonight is a night of betrayal.
We gather together to support one another, but one of us will destroy.

The cup comes to me at the table – the cup of the last meal
I will drink of it deeply and
remember all the good times; the teachings, the laughter, the love.
The cup comes to me at the table – the cup of new beginnings
I will drink of it deeply and
Hope that the new covenant will not hurt too much as it is carved on my heart.
The cup comes to me in the garden – the cup of my Father’s will
I will drink of it deeply after
I ask that it pass from me.
The cup comes to me as He is on the cross – the cup of bitterness
I will drink of it deeply even
If it comes in a form that is alien to me.
The cup comes to me tonight and I will drink.
I will drink deeply and enter into
Atonement with Him.

This is the dark night of the cup.
Dark is the wine, dark are the shadows, dark is my soul.
Together we enter into this night; we will leave separately in silence.
Can I be at one with Him? Will I stand watch with Him tonight?
Or will I too sleep at the gate?
Will I embrace and kiss only to betray?

Lenten Prayer – Week 6

Reading the BibleBack when I studied Lectio Divina, a monastic practice of literally praying the scriptures, I learned that there really are no limits to the variety of ways that God can speak to us. My pastor at the time, who led the group, said that his most basic definition of spirituality is simply “paying attention”. If we open our minds to the possibility of God’s voice & pay close attention to Him – basically shut up & listen – then He could penetrate those obstacles & boundaries that we have erected and speak to our very being.

I don’t necessarily practice Lectio anymore, but I do still try to apply many of the principles to my prayer life & study; listening intently for God’s word. And there’s not a more appropriate time to do just that than Lent.

Here is the scripture passage I am “praying” today:

Psalm 130 (the Message)

 Help, God—the bottom has fallen out of my life! Master, hear my cry for help!
Listen hard! Open your ears!
Listen to my cries for mercy.

If you, God, kept records on wrongdoings,
who would stand a chance?
As it turns out, forgiveness is your habit,
and that’s why you’re worshiped.

I pray to God—my life a prayer—
and wait for what he’ll say and do.
My life’s on the line before God, my Lord,
waiting and watching till morning,
waiting and watching till morning.

O Israel, wait and watch for God—
with God’s arrival comes love,
with God’s arrival comes generous redemption.
No doubt about it—he’ll redeem Israel,
buy back Israel from captivity to sin.

I want nothing more than my life to be a prayer.

Amen.

Lenten Prayer – Week 5

Prayer to make poverty history

Christ our Lord,
your light shines into the shadows,
and shows us where the obstacles to change lie.
We know that often they are in our own hearts,
in the way we live,
and in our daily choices and actions.

We pray that we may accept the light of your love
as a challenge to change ourselves and our world.

We pray that, each day,
we make the choices and take the actions
that will bring an end to poverty and hunger,
and lead us all towards a fairer world.

Be with us, Lord,
as we face your challenge
and learn how to live our lives in love.

Amen

© Linda Jones