The beginning of a new year often prompts the roll out of Resolutions, goals to achieve in this immediate future that will bring about a positive change in our lives. The often go unheeded after a week or two as our habitual behavior overwhelms our good intentions. In fact, February has been called the month where resolutions do to die! Sound familiar?
Those of us in the faith tradition often have other means to promote transformation in our lives. Christians have a notable season known as Lent, a period of forty days prior to Easter, to get serious about our amendment of life. Initiated by the one-two punch of Mardi Gras and Ash Wednesday, we party hard on Fat Tuesday with a knowing bow to the beginning of Lent with Ash Wednesday.
On that Wednesday, we are reminded of our mortal nature by the imposition of ashes in the form of a cross on our forehead. It is indeed an “imposition” as we don’t like to be reminded of our inevitable death. We spend a lot of time, energy, and money attempting to deny that very fact as we age. But on this peculiar day, we line up to be reminded that we are merely passing through, going from ashes to ashes, dust to dust. And the point is not to wallow in the mortality we find ourselves in when we wake up to that reality, but to wake up as well to the preciousness of this limited time we have on this field called life.
Ash Wednesday wakes us up to this fact and call, literally rubbing it in, as the ashes are pressed into our foreheads to re-mind us. The point of this liturgy is to “turn us around”, turn us toward the good, away from what hinders our process toward our goal. And the goal as a Christian is to put on the Christ life as our own.
I pause to note that pastors are scurrying to figure out how to “deliver” the ashes in a safe way in this time of Covid. Amused by the variety of methods proposed, including “showering the people you love with love” sprinkling the ashes without the touch; using a LONG Q tip, the kind that was my mother’s weapon of choice “mopping my throat” (scary); ‘pick-up plastic bags with ashes to be self-imposed at home; surgical gloves to provide a barrier for the priest’s thumb; all seem odd but can convey and communicate, at a soul level that transcends the awkward means, the spiritual message of mortality.
I have remembered people “giving up” things for Lent, like sweets, or alcohol in order to better ourselves, longing for the forty days to pass quickly so we can get back, return to our bad habits. Ideally, Ash Wednesday which extends into Lent is a discipline by which we engage in self-examination so that we can amend our life in the particular ways that are getting in our way of a good life.
This “moment” in the Christian year is actually a concentration, a focus on an aspect of how it is to live a faithful life of self-awareness, a habit that we need to employ throughout the year. Self-awareness is that discipline of taking the time to pause, reflect, and plan our lives that will assist us in achieving the life we desire. In our busyness, both in our work and our social interactions, we become distracted and fall easily into a default mode of routine. Lent re-minds us of the critical nature of self-awareness as goal of our life.
One of the practices that encourage such self-awareness is known as journaling. This discipline requires an engagement of reflection that has a three-fold shape: Pause, Reflect, and Write. It doesn’t have to be complicated. It’s as easy as pulling up a piece of the room to pause, to write down what going on in your life, taking the time to reflect on that life, your feelings as to what’s going on in your heart, and even sidle up to that soul of yours to check on your deep emotions and desires.
If you want to make it a bit more complicated, you can google “bullet journal” and find a good method of cross-referencing your entries through time. Note to insurrectionists and militia: bullet does not refer to ammo.
If you are up for a deep dive, you might look up a man we brought to the Center for Faith Development, Ira Progoff, who brings a Jungian depth to a method he calls the Intensive Journal. It has definite OCD tendencies for my taste, but I have used it effectively in critical times of decisions, opening access to dreams and the power of imagination.
Like most of life, it matters little what method you use. Just start. Begin.
Begin with a profound PAUSE. Ash Wednesday might be just the time to begin. This year, it begins on February 17th. You can access a liturgy through Zoom at any liturgical church such as the Episcopal near you. You could go to the website of Christ Church here on St. Simons Island at http://www.ccfssi.org and find the times and the links to the service. Don’t worry if you are not familiar with the ritual. Just show up. Of all the liturgies in the Book of Common Prayer, this is the one that does it on its own. I’ll give you the proverbial money-back guarantee. Just show up.
I think forty days later, the number of years the Hebrews wandered in the wilderness, the time designated for observing Lent, you just may find the wake up call you were looking for:
* A new way of reflecting on the past that got you where you are.
* A more clear sense of where you are in the present moment.
*An adjusted sense of direction as to where you are headed.
Why not give it a chance? Increasing your self-awareness, the real Breakfast of Champions.
All you have to lose is your illusions about this life you live, and who you are. Blessings.