Starting With A Gray Smudge

ash wednesday:

Somewhere in my little girl, growing up years, I began to believe my Baptist church was “doing it right. I placed a high value on being “right,” in my faith, overlooking and often ignoring Jesus’s plea for righteousness through him.

And so that little girl mind of mine grew up with some pretty self-righteous thoughts about what the church should believe and do. And I was going along just fine, until I fell in love with a boy whose family was Methodist on one side and Catholic on the other. I wasn’t worried, the Methodists were ok. They had a fabulous midnight Christmas Eve service.

Anyway, I married that boy, and two years later sat in a hospital with his grandma. She didn’t always know why her Catholic faith did what it did, but she followed through with it.  And so, in my early twenties, sitting with grandma while her husband had surgery on an Ash Wednesday, I was cocky and pressed into the moment, all too smug to walk away with the answer I got – she didn’t know what the gray smudge on her forehead meant.

It only confirmed what I had thought about this faith that seemed to hold Jesus at far too far a distance. And wasn’t I doing much the same? I didn’t have answers for why I did nothing to prepare myself for the remembrance of my Christ. It had never been suggested, and if it had I clearly wasn’t listening.

This day would mark the day God began to do some heavy work on my heart that continues still. That day in the hospital with grandma made a small crack in the tarnished mirror that until then, had only reflected my “right” image.

God filled my years thereafter with beautifully varied women who taught me to respect and listen to those whose worship and adoration looked different, the subtle suggestion that I might find something I was missing in the listening. Slowly I awakened to the enormity of the Trinity.

Today, I’m gratefully sinking into a time of focus, of fasting and of prayer. Although not taught to, I recognize my need to join those ancient practices of traditions, recitations and rhythms. I’m becoming more fully aware how very wise and beautiful it is to be joined in unity with other believers, returning to God through the reading of the same text, during the same season, teaching me the power of repentance and forgiveness and rightness with God first, then with those God has placed with me on this earth. And it seems completely appropriate in this time of national division and confusion that those who call Christ savior and friend would remember him together.

So even if you don’t understand it all, you can start with something. You can start with a prayer to know God in a way you don’t right now. To notice someone that needs a little help and give it without expectation. To forgive and then to forget. To live simply for forty days and be surprised at how much lighter you are, focused on Christ with clearer thoughts, attention, and devotion to the only one who deserves it. Your submission to the ways of Christ will come a little easier. And while you will may find yourself in a similar place of forgetfulness a year from now, you will also remember the sweetness of communion with your Lord, his teachings and their familiarity, his washing of dusty feet, of breaking his body, pouring out his blood, for even this very day.

In this season of returning to God, let us remember him, together, one body, one spirit. Let us learn from each other, remembering Christ’s sacrifice for us all. Let us worship him in these days, undistracted and simple.

Although I’m not Catholic, I am observing Ash Wednesday as a starting place and the forty-plus days that follow. If you want to know more about how you can observe these days more fully, I’ve listed a few resources below.

For an additional article on why Christians should observe Lent:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/markdroberts/series/how-lent-can-make-a-difference-in-your-relationship-with-god/

For a guide on the observance of the Stations of the Cross:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/markdroberts/series/the-stations-of-the-cross-a-devotional-guide-for-lent-and-holy-week/

To experience a silent retreat during Holy Week with a printed guide to help you:

www.sustainablefaithindy.com/

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