I did not grow up with Ash Wednesday - or any other sacramental ritual or observance save the annual trek to the corner lot to get a Christmas tree with my dad and maybe a chocolate Easter bunny. To be sure, while I was baptized into the Anglican part of the Christian family, we were not in any way religious as a young family. After all, my father's people were serious Christian Unitarians. My mother's family celebrated their Irish roots but only mildly when it came to religion as my grandfather left the Roman Catholic Church to marry my Protestant grandmother. There were weddings and baptisms - that was the order of things in those days - and midnight Eucharist on Christmas Eve from time to time and Easter Sunday. But that was mostly it.
In time, my father ached to sing the old sacred songs of the Christian Reformed tradition - he was a serious choir geek - so in second grade I found myself in the Newtown Congregational Church and that's where I've been ever since. I was confirmed in that tradition, held "in-care" as I explored a possible call to ministry and was ordained 33 years ago as a United Church of Christ clergy person with decidedly Congregational roots. But here's the rub: my beloved tradition threw the liturgical baby out with the sacramental bath water back - and we've been ever the poorer for it. Small wonder that my soul found solace when I stumbled back into the Anglican church while serving a congregation in Cleveland.
As one old Anglican told me while on retreat, "This is Catholicism that makes sense." At the time I didn't know exactly what he meant - mostly a less autocratic line of authority and accountability - I just knew that I loved the smells and bells. My daughters and I used to go from our Christmas Eve worship to the Cathedral midnight Mass - and you couldn't keep us away from the Easter Vigil. Thanks be to God I found my way back into a Reformed liturgical renewal with the Community of Iona as they have helped me bring a sacramental emphasis back to our worship life.
Today at midday Eucharist a few of us listened to Psalm 51 again. We broke bread around the
communion table and then accepted the imposition of ashes. I will lead the "confession and imposition of ashes" part of the liturgy at tonight's ecumenical worship. Indeed, I just finished burning the palms from last year, grinding and sifting the ashes, too in anticipation. My old white alb has been washed - it is getting a little worn out after all these years - so I am almost ready to go. I love this time of year. My wife hates it - too long and hard - and for her I think that is true. But I love it.
This year I am following two blogs as my Lenten discipline - it is often new every year as I try to reclaim a commitment to prayer, fasting and caring for the poor - so let me share them both with you in the hopes they might be food for your journey.
+ The first comes from a blogging/facebook friend in Australia who turned me on to this daily discipline: A Literary Reader for Lent. (http://www.themillions.com/2015/02/forty-for-40-a-literary-reader-for-lent.html) It opens with this overview:
"Lent,” wrote Thomas Merton, “is not just a time for squaring conscious accounts: but for realizing what we had perhaps not seen before.” Lent is the most literary season of the liturgical year. The Lenten narrative is marked by violence, suffering, anticipation, and finally, joy. Jesus Christ’s 40 days of fasting in the desert are the spiritual and dramatic origin for the season that begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday. While Advent is a time of giving, Lent is a time of reflection, penance, and reconciliation, all revealed through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Holy Week is a solemn sequence of days leading to the grace of Easter. It is a different form of joy than Christmas; Easter joy is cathartic and transformational. Lent, then, is a time of complex and contrasting emotions. Highs and lows. A time to be shaken and surprised.
+ The second comes from my brother from another mother in Canada: Steve Bell's Pilgrim Year (Lent). (http://blog.stevebell.com/2015/02/clean-monday-first-day-of-lent-eastern-rite/) It is rooted in the Eastern Rite Catholic Church - very close to the Eastern Orthodox in style and content - and offers this opening insight: Lent calls us to oppose sloth.
Sloth: The word used here does not imply laziness but rather indifference. Sloth is the condition of spirit marked by cynicism and apathy that makes of our life a spiritual waste. Schmemann calls it the “root of all sin because it poisons the spiritual energy at its very source.”
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