With Ash Wednesday, this week marks the beginning of Lent, the season of reflection leading up to Easter. During Lent, we (generally) give up something from our daily routine and replace it with a spiritual discipline such as prayer and devotional reading. It’s a season of fasting that puts the feast days of Sunday and Easter into sharp perspective. Such fasting often slows us down, opening a window for reflection, growth, and renewal.
In his book, Whistling in the Dark: A Doubter’s Dictionary, Frederick Buechner contextualizes Lent as part of the biblical tradition and offers a few prompts for reflection during the season:
In many cultures there is an ancient custom of giving a tenth of each year’s income to some holy use. For Christians, to observe the forty days of Lent is do the same thing with roughly a tenth of each year’s days. After being baptized by John in the river Jordan, Jesus went off alone into the wilderness where he spent forty days asking himself the question what it meant to be Jesus. During Lent, Christians are supposed to ask one way or another what it means to be themselves.
If you had to bet everything you have on whether there is a God or whether there isn’t, which side would get your money and why?
When you look at your face in the mirror, what do you see in it that you most like and what do you see in it that you most deplore?
If you had only one last message to leave to the handful of people who are most important to you, what would it be in twenty-five words or less?
Of all the things you have done in your life, which is the one you would most like to undo? Which is the one that makes you happiest to remember?
Is there any person in the world, or any cause, that, if circumstances called for it, you would be willing to die for? If this were the last day of your life, what would you do with it?
To hear yourself try to answer questions like these is to begin to hear something not only of who you are but of both what you are becoming and what you are failing to become. It can be a pretty depressing business all in all, but if sack-cloth and ashes are at the start of it, something like Easter may be at the end. (82)
Ash Wednesday starts the Lenten season with a reminder of our mortality: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Lent is a time to consider who we will be and what we will do with our short time on Earth.
Never been to an Ash Wednesday service? Consider popping in on one of your Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, or Roman Catholic neighbors.