Archives for posts with tag: Ash Wednesday

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Happy New Year!  That’s right.  I’ll say it again.  Happy New Year!  I’ve finally concluded that Ash Wednesday is my New Year’s Day.

The essence of Ash Wednesday lies in the collect of the day:  “You hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent.”  The rest is commentary.

God hates nothing in all of creation.  God loves it all – even those creatures that we don’t like.  However, God doesn’t always like the way we humans behave in and towards the creation.  In fact, God wants us to mend our ways.  The worship of Ash Wednesday, the readings, prayers, and the ashes help us understand what this amendment of life is all about.

The prophet Isaiah said it very directly:  The people cry: “Why do we fast, but you do not see?Why do we humble ourselves, but you do not notice?”  God responds: “Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself?  Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?’

The fast that God wants and expects is not a shallow apology, insincere remorse or pompous piety.   The fast that God wants and expects is a mending of the tear in our individual lives and in the very tapestry of creation.  That’s what God wants!

God doesn’t really care if we give up sugar for Lent.  God wants those who cut sugar cane and labor in sugar factories to get a living wage and be treated fairly by their employers, even if it means that the price of sugar goes up for the rest of us.

God doesn’t really care if we give up alcohol for Lent.  God wants to us to take care of our bodies, our brains, and our souls; and I don’t think that God wants us driving around drunk and putting the lives of others in jeopardy, or being abusive to those around us because we abuse alcohol. So if we’re drinking too much, then God wants us to deal with that, and maybe Lent is good time to begin with Ash Wednesday marking “the first day of the rest of our lives.”

God doesn’t really care if we give up Facebook or Twitter for Lent.  God wants us to stay connected with one another, but would really appreciate it if we made sure to stay connected with God.  And perhaps, God wants us to have more face-to-face conversations with each other.

God doesn’t really care if our names are displayed on donor plaques, but God wants and needs us to give generously of our time, talent and treasure to God’s work in the world.

God doesn’t really care if we if walk around with ashes on our foreheads, but God does want us to remember our connection with creation: that we are part of the humus, the good earth, the dust of creation.  “Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, and dust to dust.”  If having a smudge of ashes placed upon our foreheads helps us make this connection, then this act of contrition is pleasing in God’s sight.

What does God expect of us?  Simply put, God wants us to make ourselves available to be reconciled in Christ: to be made whole and put back together.  God wants us to be righteous – that is, in right relationship with God, our neighbors, and ourselves. 

What does God require of us?  God wants us to turn around in order face God anew and remember our rightful vocation as stewards and caregivers of God’s precious creation. We have the awesome responsibility for serving God by caring for God’s earth.  This is our particular calling as human beings.  It is a sacred vocation, and we need to remember it.

Ashes mark our frail humanity, our connection to this planet, and our relationship to Adam and Eve who were symbolically formed out of the dust of the earth, molded out of the clay by God’s hands.  Ashes are mentioned throughout the Bible.  In Genesis, we hear our forefather Abraham say, “I who am but dust and ashes.”  Tamar, after she was raped, put on ashes in mourning.  Job, as his life fell apart, put on the ashes of grief.  Almost all of the prophets speak of ashes and dust.  It is right and good that we mark our foreheads with ashes to remind ourselves that our God is here – ready, willing and able to receive our repentance, our anger, and our grief – and to offer in return divine forgiveness, comfort and love.   

As a people, we need to return to God.   We need to remember and be mindful of the pain and brokenness in our own lives, and that of our families, friends and communities.  We also need to remember and be mindful of the pain and turmoil of our nation, our world, and the rest of God’s creation.

Ash Wednesday is about remembering or being mindful: remembering and being mindful of God, our neighbors, and ourselves.  Ash Wednesday is a reminder that everything we do and say has an impact on somebody else. 

The prophets writing thousands of years ago said it well.   God calls us to a fast – a fast of making justice, loving-kindness and walking humbly with God.  And if we take these steps,  “we shall be like a watered garden, our ancient ruins shall be rebuilt, we shall raise up the foundations of many generations, and we shall be called “the repairer of the breach, the restorer of the streets” (Isaiah 58:12).  If we live the fast of God, then we shall feast. 

On Ash Wednesday, we pray a litany of penitence.  Like on Yom Kippur in Judaism, each petition acknowledges an element of our broken and wounded soul.  In praying this litany, we confess that we have not loved God, our neighbors and ourselves with our whole heart, mind and spirit.  We acknowledge that we have sometimes not heard the call to serve.  We admit that we have been unfaithful, prideful, hypocritical, and impatient.  We disclose that we have been self-indulgent and exploitative.  We declare that we have been angry, envious and dishonest.   And guess what – it’s true.  The truth is that, like the collect for Ash Wednesday, sometime during the past year, we have been sinful and wretched, and that we need to be forgiven and made whole.  In short, on Ash Wednesday, we will plead that God “create and make in us new and contrite hearts.[i]

I for one am grateful for Ash Wednesday – the opportunity to get down on my knees and say, God, please let me start over.  Please give me a second chance.  And once again, mark my forehead with the seal of your cross so that I may remember from whence I came and where I am going.


[i] “Collect for Ash Wednesday,” The Book of Common Prayer, p. 264

What's wrong with french fries?

Ash Wednesday 2012

At our annual Shrove Tuesday pancake supper, a group of middle-aged adults started talking about favorite junk food from our childhood.  On the top of the list for a number of folks were Krispy Kreme donuts.  As I drove home, trying to focus on my Ash Wednesday sermon,  I had junk food on the brain, and my ruminations turned to McDonald’s french fries.  By the time I got to my house, I literally had a craving for those perfectly constructed, remarkably uniform, four-inch-long strips of Idaho russet potatoes soaked in sugar, corn syrup, and hot water; fried in oil; drenched in salt; and served in a little paper bag or box.  And then I remembered my Lenten commitment of mindful eating.

But I couldn’t get those French fries out of my mind.  I could have gone out and feasted on McDonald’s french fries.  After all, it was still Fat Tuesday.  But instead, I sat down with Food and Faith, one of the books I intended to read to inspire my mindful eating discipline.  The book fell open to an essay by John Ryan and Alan Durning about the journey of a box of McDonald’s French fries that began on a one-half square foot of sandy soil in the upper Snake River valley of Idaho.[i]

I learned that during its 150-day growing period, my potato was watered repeatedly with a total of seven and one-half gallons of water from the Snake River.  My potato was treated with a variety of fertilizers and pesticides to make it look so uniform and perfect.  Much of the fertilizer’s nitrogen leached into the groundwater, making it unfit for even fertilization, and some of it washed into the streams that feed the Snake River.

Once my potato had grown to maturity, it was harvested by diesel-powered farm machinery and trucked to a nearby processing plant.  Half of my potato’s weight (mostly water from the Snake River) was eliminated in the processing.  The processing itself created an additional two-thirds of a gallon of wastewater that included 1/3 gram of nitrogen, and was then sprayed on a field outside the plant and sank underground.

After my potato was processed into those uniform four-inch-long strips, it was frozen with hydro fluorocarbon coolants and electricity generated by a dam on the Snake River.  It then was shipped, along with lots of other bags of frozen four-inch-long strips of potatoes, in a refrigerated 18-wheeler to my McDonald’s – one of 33,000 worldwide.

By the time I finished reading the essay, I should have lost my taste for a bag of those golden brown French fries, but I didn’t.  However, I decided to begin my Lenten practice of mindful eating a day early.

In the traditional gospel reading from Matthew 6 appointed for Ash Wednesday Jesus, reminds us of three essential principles of Christian mindfulness:  fasting, almsgiving, and prayer.  Using french fries as my metaphor, I want to explore with you what he’s talking about and how it might apply in our daily lives.

In the abstract, there is absolutely nothing wrong with eating french fries.  Now, I wouldn’t go as far as Ray Kroc, one of the founders of McDonald’s who wrote in his autobiography that the french fry was “almost sacrosanct” for him.  However, I might agree that ”its preparation [could be] a ritual to be followed religiously.”[ii]  If I grew a potato in my own organic garden, relying largely on rain water and no fertilizer; if I harvested that potato myself; if I washed it in my sink with small amount of tap water; if I sliced it into imperfect four-inch-long strips; and if I fried it in a little unsaturated oil; and if I sprinkled just a little sea salt, then my french fries wouldn’t be so bad.

Moreover, if I had grown my own potato and processed it myself into a plate of french fries, I would have been mindful of, and attentive to, the soil, the sun, the rain, my neighborhood critters, my body, and my environment.  Once I got used to not coating my food with sugar and corn syrup, I’m certain it would have tasted better.   And, for every calorie eaten, I might have burned up a few in the effort of tending my garden.

Knowing my gardening skills, I would have been saying a lot of prayers for my garden to grow.  And if I had a decent crop, I could have shared my produce with others less fortunate.

But what if I didn’t have a garden?   Well, I could have grown my potato in a community garden, or purchased it from a local farmer, a CSA or a farmer’s market.    Moreover, as a discipline, for every potato eaten, I could give one or two cents to a local or global hunger program.

The point is, that in deciding not to buy my french fries in a box or bag from McDonald’s (or some other fast food restaurant), I would be making the decision to be mindful in my eating, prayerful in my choices, and attentive to the needs of the rest of the world.

As I reflect on Jesus’ advice for practicing self-denial, I have concluded that it really is about paying attention – paying attention to how we eat, how we pray, and how we share the gifts we have been given.

Lent is a time to focus on this practice of mindful living.  It is a season to renew those good new intentions and begin taking steps in the right direction.   In AA, they say – 90 meetings in 90 days.  That’s the amount of time it takes to break an old habit and form a new one.  The Lenten-Easter cycle is just that – 90 days: 40 days of Lent and 50 days of Easter.   That’s 90 days to begin again and start anew.  And, if one falls off the wagon, so to speak, you can start over.  After all, we belong to a religion of second-chances and start-overs.  It’s really a matter of intention, attention, mindfulness and practice.

As for me, I’m going to work on mindful eating as my Lenten practice and hope that it sticks.  I think I’m also going to plant some potatoes this spring.  I should be able to plant my crop on St. Patrick’s Day – right in the middle of Lent and harvest my potatoes after Pentecost.  In the meantime, I’m going to do my best to avoid those tempting McDonald’s french fries.

What about you?  What are going to take on or give up this Lent as you pay attention to practice mindful living in the name of Christ?


[i] “French Fries by John C. Ryan and Alan Thein Durning, Food and Faith (Living the Good News, The Morehouse Group, 2002), pp 123-125)

[ii] Ray Kroc, Grinding it Out: The Making of McDonald’s (1992)

 

Why I Do Ashes by Tracey Lind

 

The other day I reminded a friend that Ash Wednesday was fast approaching.  She reminded me that she didn’t do ashes.

A lot of people don’t understand Ash Wednesday and “don’t do ashes.”  Frankly, I think Ash Wednesday is one of the most powerful liturgies of the entire church year, and I believe that marking our foreheads with ashes is one of the most powerful rituals in our tradition.

Ash Wednesday really means for me a right beginning.  It is a chance to start over, to say with absolute certainty and resolute assurance that today is the first day of the rest of our lives.   I don’t know about you, but I need starting over days and new beginnings.  I also need symbols and rituals to mark these rights of passage.  Ashes are the powerful symbol of the starting over as we pray, “Create in us a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within us.”   They remind us of who we are and to whom we belong.

I am grateful for the opportunity to get down on my knees and say – God, please let me start over.  Please give me a second chance.  And once again, mark my forehead so that I may remember when whence I came and where I am going.

Today is Shrove Tuesday, and tonight at Trinity Cathedral we’ll eat pancakes at 6pm.  Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, and we’ll worship at 7:30 a.m., 12:10 pm , and 6 pm.  If you’re looking to start over, join us!