On Wed., Feb. 25, you might notice a bunch of folk walking around town with black ashes on their forehead. The ashes signal the start of the Christian spiritual season of Lent. The season of Lent is a time for deep personal introspection while taking a fearless moral inventory of one's life.
The season begins with the imposition of ashes upon the forehead of the Christian. The ashes are a reminder that we are, each of us, mortal, we are but dust, and to dust we return, except by the grace of God. Lent then moves through a 40-day period of purging. The Church remembers the 40 days of wilderness temptation in the life of Jesus, which was, in turn, a remembering of the 40 years of wilderness wandering of the newly freed imperial slaves as they moved toward a land of promise. During Lent, followers of Jesus focus on releasing negative habits, addictions, and dependencies. Christians are encouraged to give up pleasures and privileges in an attempt to experience freedom from habit and need. The season of Lent becomes a time of faithful resistance to accommodating the American imperial way of life.
I'll spend these 40 days in a small-group spiritual pilgrimage learning ways to release shame and anger, to face my anger and hopefully transform it. I will be part of a group that together will seek ways to forgive and to reconcile and to receive God's blessing of life. Along with the group experience, I'll spend isolated time journaling, praying, fasting, and simply soaking into silence. In this way I'll descend down the stairs into the basement of my life and start cleaning out the cobwebs, sweeping and sorting, opening up the windows to let resurrected spirit air back into my life. I hope to learn the secrets of taming the whirlwind that so often threatens to spin out of balance and control.
The Church rhythmically practices these disciplines as a pedagogy that teaches its participants to experience freedom, to pierce the veil that separates flesh from spirit. Lenten disciplines teach the participant to overcome the temptation to simply let life happen. Rather, the Lenten disciplines assist the Christian to challenge and change whatever addictions or habits or daily routines that prevent one from experiencing new growth and development. The church, at its best, is all about evolving the spiritual consciousness of the believer from one merely focused on self survival, toward one focused on collective connectedness. These disciplines, in other words, enable Christians to grow up into Christ, into a more mature expression of the image of God.
Every spiritual path is a pilgrimage getting us from here to there. Complete with smudge mark on my face, and speaking from the fragility of my own mortality, I lift up a voice of encouragement to you the reader, saying simply, "Don't waste your life, go deeper!"