entering new life through the ashes of death...

Today is a gray and foreboding day - perfect for Ash Wednesday! This year I am holding two unique quotes close to my heart as a way to shape my observance of Lent and to take it deeper. I was struck by Bonhoeffer's insistence that most acts of penance are nothing more than the reinforcement of spiritual individualism. "Oh, how sinful I am!" or "Look at how much I am able to suffer for the Lord!"  

What self-centered bullshit, right?  He goes on to note that asceticism is not a spiritual discipline, but rather a way of pumping ourselves up without doing anything to love or help our neighbor. That's why this year I want to take another step away from empty asceticism in the direction of full on living! What better way to follow Jesus than embodied love?!  The first quote, from Barbara Brown Taylor, has been haunting me for about a year:

What if church invited people to come tell what they already know of God instead of to learn what they are supposed to believe? What if it blessed people for what they are doing in the world instead of chastening them for not doing more at church? What if the church's job were to convince people that God needs them working in the world more than God needs them sitting in the pews?

This doesn't mean we know it all, nor does it mean the church is irrelevant to spiritual formation. It simply recalls for us that following Jesus is all about sharing love in the real world.  And that's where my second quote, from Pope Francis, cuts to the chase:

Do you want to fast this Lent? Then fast from hurting words and say kind ones. Fast from sadness and be filled with gratitude. Fast from anger and be filled with patience. Fast from pessimism and be filled with hope. Fast from worries and have trust in God. Fast from complaints and contemplate simplicity. Fast from pressures and be prayerful. Fast from bitterness and fill your hearts with joy. Fast from selfishness and be compassionate to others. Fast from grudges and be reconciled. Fast from words and be silent so you can listen.

This year my Lenten mantra is: No more pious bullshit. Help me keep it real, Lord.  To that end, March looks to be a time of deepening my connection to those I love:  celebrating one daughter's birthday, attending a young man's play, taking some of the family to dig Lisa Fischer, visiting the Brooklyn family for some sacred Louie time and then going on retreat to visit my friends at L'Arche Ottawa. We're also bringing to birth a lay visitation team at church to spread the love and share the cost and joy of discipleship. 

I don't know whether it is semi-retirement or a new focus of the heart - or some of both - but this Lent feels like a gift to me. It is yet another chance to enter new life and new ways of loving through the ashes of dying to old habits. Thanks be to God.

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