Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent

My faith community doesn't really acknowledge or celebrate Lent. A good friend of mine gave me a book of Lenten reflections for each of the 40 days that peaked my interest and got me researching the topic. At the same time I am nearing the end of a study of the book of Philippians. This past week we focused intently on Paul's admonitions for the Philippian church to to live disciplined lives focused on Heaven. So the whole idea of Lent:

Traditionally Lent is a season of sober, realistic reflection on our own lives and our need for a Savior. It is a time for turning away from anything that has kept us from God and for turning or returning to him. It is a time to pray that God renew our love for him and our dependence on him.


Lent is about the gospel. It is a time to narrow the focus of the Church to the work of Christ, in particular His life and death, a season to turn from sin and trust in His atoning work....It is a time for fasting and self-denial, though not for denial itself. It is a period to empty ourselves of lesser things so that we might be filled with the greater things of the gospel.

fits perfectly (and very biblically) into my goal of disciplining myself (and my children!) to follow Christ.

So this morning I went to my very first Ash Wednesday service. Early, outside, a small crowd of people gathered around a cross. We sang "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross" and had a time of prayer and the speaker talked about the history of putting ashes on heads throughout the old testament as a sign of repentance and sorrow. Then we heard about the great love Jesus has for us and that we are called to crucify the parts of ourselves that are not of Him. What a simple, yet deep way to begin my morning and this season.

Ash Wednesday:
Its name comes from the ancient practice of placing ashes on worshippers’ heads or foreheads as a sign of humility before God, a symbol of mourning and sorrow at the death that sin brings into the world. It not only prefigures the mourning at the death of Jesus, but also places the worshipper in a position to realize the consequences of sin.

Of course I was so excited to share this concept with Quinn in a way appropriate with her. She immediately wanted to know what was on my head. :) So we had our own Ash Wednesday at home today.

We started out by cutting off some dried palm branches. This was a great science lesson--we talked about how they turn brown and crunchy when they die, and green branches are still wet so they don't burn well.

Then we put them in the chiminea and lit them, after a short talk about fire safety and when/who uses fire.

While they burned down, we read in her children's Bible (The Jesus Storybook Bible, actually, which I highly recommend owning). We read the story of Jonah (I totally took this idea from the mornings' service I'd attended) and talked about how the people of Ninevah were sorry for their sin and wore sackcloth and put ashes on their head and told God they would change their ways. We talked about how ashes are a visible way people used to show they were sorry and ready to make better choices. (In language appropriate for a 3 year old).

She was very solemn and interested in the ashes and the story of Jonah. We'd read it tons of time before, but I hadn't gone into the way the people of Ninevah showed their repentance and sorrow over their sin, so this was new to her. Then we talked briefly about how we are sad that our sin made Jesus go to the cross and hurts him still every time we sin.

Of course there were some "totally 3 year old" interludes where she said random things like, "can we make soup out of mud after this?" "How about if I am good I don't need a nap today? (nice try....but no) and I know quite a bit of what I said went over her head. But I am confident she picked up some of the ideas and they will begin building a framework for her to add to over time as she is able to process the very abstract concepts of sin and forgiveness and even Jesus, this man we've never seen but talk about and who lives in some place we've never seen called Heaven (which she asked me if we could tear away the sky and climb up there....too much Jack and the Beanstalk!).

Then we dug out some of the ashes and a couple sticks with ashes on them. I touched it and showed her how it had turned black (I was beginning to notice her interest waning at this point or else I'd have talked briefly about the chemical changes that the palm branches had made....isn't God amazing when you think of all of these aspects of creation????!!) She was a little freaked about the ashes and didn't want to touch them, so I put some on my head and we talked about why we make a cross out of the ashes. And then we made mud soup! And now she's napping!

So we are doing this whole Lent thing. I want to take advantage of every opportunity to draw myself and my little family closer to our Savior. I want to oust everything that's not of him, which I know is a lifetime journey--Paul says even he had not yet reached perfection, but continued to press on......(Phil 3) I feel like we are somewhat stumbling through it since it's so foreign and new, but I am praying for the Spirit to guide our steps and I am thankful for the opportunity we have to experience this spiritual discipline afresh--it hasn't become familiar and routine to us!

I'll try to post about our journey regularly......