Today is Ash Wednesday, 2010.
Ash Wednesday is a Christian holiday (holy day) that is not a biblical requirement (rather like Christmas and Easter). Nevertheless, it has been honored by Christians for well over ten centuries at the beginning of Lent, a six-week season of preparation for Easter. In the earliest centuries, Christians who had fallen into persistent sin had ashes sprinkled on their bodies as a sign of repentance, even as Job repented “in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6). Around the tenth century, all believers began to signify their need for repentance by having ashes placed on their foreheads in the shape of a cross. Notice: even this sign of sinfulness hinted at the good news yet to come through its shape. Ash Wednesday is not some dour, depressing holy day because it symbolically anticipates Good Friday and Easter.
Today, celebrations of Ash Wednesday vary among churches that recognize this holiday. In the church that I attend, ashes are placed on our foreheads as a reminder of our mortality and sinfulness. The person who imposes the ashes quotes something like what God once said to Adam after he had sinned: “You are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen 3:19). This is the bad news of our sinfulness that prepares us to receive the good news of forgiveness in Christ. This good news is celebrated in the Holy Eucharist immediately after the imposition of ashes.
During the season of Lent, it is common practice to give something up for Lent. This means, depending on how you count the days of Lent, fasting from something for about six weeks. (Officially in the Western world, Lent comprises the days from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday, the day before Easter. But many traditions do not count the Sundays during this period as belonging to Lent. Thus Lent covers 46 days, but only 40 days belong to the Lenten fast.)
I am a Type II diabetic, so I cannot fast a full meal. Over the years, I’ve fasted sweets, or chocolates, or anything white (sugar, flour). I would do okay for the first few weeks—or in the case of chocolates—a few days. Another year, I decided to fast television. There’s nothing good to watch anyway. This worked quite well during the week as my hubby was always out of town on business. It was harder on the weekend, because he would always turn it on. So, ultimately, that sacrifice didn’t work either.
Last year, I got the novel idea of asking God what should I fast for Lent, 2009. Below is my journal entry from Ash Wednesday, 2009:
Over the last several days, I’ve been wondering what to give up for Lent.
To me, if giving up” something doesn’t bring about a permanent change,
then why bother? So almost every year I struggle with what I should give up.
This morning as I was praying, I asked God what He wanted me to give up.
Very clearly, I heard Him say, “Yourself.”
“You. I want you to give up yourself – everything about you – to Me.
For the next 40 days – every morning before you start your day – I want
you to ask Me what it is that I want you to do that day. And I will tell you.”
And He did tell me. Some days I had to give up my agenda for that day. Some days I had to lay my dreams and goals at His feet only to receive them back from Him in greater form and detail. Many days He asked me to give up time spent on frivolous activities and spend that time with Him instead. There were so many ways that God used those 40 days to help me grow spiritually and to draw me closer to Him.
I am sorry to say that I did not keep this up all year. I did maintain it for a while after Easter, but gradually I stopped. But my “fasting” this year will again be “me.”
For the next 40 days, every morning I will ask God “What do you want me to do today?” And I will listen and do what He says to do that day. I will not think about tomorrow because on that day, I will again surrender myself, ask God what He wants me to do and be obedient to His call that day.
After all, isn’t that the way we should live each day?
© 2010 Edwina E. Cowgill