Last night, I watched as you shuffled forward: hands grasped around your promises, heads bare and ready for an ashen smudge, bellies hungry for God’s grace abundant at the table, God’s beloveds gathered together.
On the slips of paper you carried were three words of invitation: What practice or daily action might you give up in order to create space for God to work anew? What practice or daily action might you take on that promises to shape you in faithfulness and intention? And in the space that those changes make, how will you approach yourself with vulnerability and belovedness?
I’ve held a yearly practice to scoop up these anonymous promises after Ash Wednesday worship and pray for you, for them — right then and there. Each year, I am enlightened and encouraged by your covenants. This year, you’re giving up fear and anger, excuses and indifference, sweets after dinner and Tik Tok, getting frustrated with your family members and feeling like there’s never enough of anything. You’re taking on focused prayer and unscheduled meditation, time outside and daily note-writing to neighbors, “building muscle for surrender” and moving your bodies each day. And ask these new rhythms offer renewed shape to your faithfulness, you promised to treat yourself with the grace you extend to others, being gentle with your bodies and more aware of your emotional posture in relationships that matter.
What I hear in your promises is the very gift that Lent offers to us; that is, the gift of observation. Of noticing unconscious habits or spiritual calluses that have built up over time unaware. Of considering why that is, what these behaviors have covered up or concealed that you might discover anew. Of not shaming yourself for them, but rather using this invitation to acknowledge and adjust, filled with hope for what such a shift might mean for your life. As I write to you this morning after Ash Wednesday, I give thanks for you and for Lent’s seasonal gift of observation, consideration, transformation.
This year, I am drawn to surrender the mindless consumption of news. Without even realizing it, I’ve developed a habit of checking Twitter or news apps occasionally throughout the day — especially soon after I rise and not long before I rest. If I had to say why, I think it’s because I want to be in the know all the time, to have a grasp on all the crises and challenges that await the world each day. But as I pull back enough to observe this habit, I realize that it’s fueling an anxious spirit throughout my days that I neither desire nor celebrate. I wonder: how might God change my posture towards the world when my head isn’t down, my fingers aren’t scrolling, my mind isn’t reeling from what I read?
I’m also feeling the call to take on a practice of slowing down. Perhaps in part due to my mindless scrolling through the news and in part due to the deep demands of each day, without meaning to, I generally move through every day at top speed. I go quickly through the morning routine, pouring bowls of cereal and packing lunches and braiding hair and picking out clothes for a picky preschooler with haste. I churn through agendas and emails, hurry through the tasks I must complete because there’s never enough time to complete them, even reading sometimes in a rush to get to the point, the takeaway, the nugget I need for a sermon. But this season, I wonder: what might I gain when I lose the urgent desire to fly through my days? What surprising delights might I capture by lingering?
In all things, may we hold these covenants with the grace that God holds us. A blessed Lent to you!
Together in God’s work of Love,