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Ash Wednesday Reflections – Shawna R. B. Atteberry
Feb 252009

Today I read three wonderful articles on Ash Wednesday:

At The Episcopal Cafe Sam Candler reminds us that some of the most fertile and rich soil comes from ashes in Ashes and Wine:

But today, I propose another meaning for these ashes. Out of these ashes, these signs of our mortal nature, comes something else. Once we recognize our own responsibility for wrongdoing, once we acknowledge our mortal and dusty nature, the ashes also become a sign of fertility.

If we are truly repentant, and truly cleansed, and open to the reality of God around us, then we are also fertile, ready to give growth to greatness.

Out of seven years worth of ashes on the island of Madeira came one of the finest wines of that time. There is no way the wine could have been produced without the burning, without the ashes. In fact, it was the burning that cleared the ground in the first place.

Ash Wednesday and Lent are, likewise, the burning and clearing of our Christian lives. We enter a time for confession, for penitence, for realization of our earthly nature. But this is also a fertile day, a time for self-examination and self-preparation. Today is getting us ready for something.

In The Artful Ashes Jan Richardson shared what she discovered when she took a project where she learned to draw in charcoal (if you are not reading The Painted Prayerbook regularly, I highly recommend you subscribe to her feed):

Taking up a new medium, entering a different way of working, diving or tiptoeing into a new approach: all this can be complex, unsettling, disorienting, discombobulating. Launching into the unknown and untried confronts us with what is undeveloped within us. It compels us to see where we are not adept, where we lack skill, where we possess little gracefulness. Yet what may seem like inadequacy—as I felt in my early attempts with charcoal—becomes fantastic fodder for the creative process, and for life. Allowing ourselves to be present to the messiness provides an amazing way to sort through what is essential and to clear a path through the chaos. To borrow the words of the writer of the Psalm 51, the psalm for Ash Wednesday, it creates a clean heart within us.

Ash Wednesday beckons us to cross over the threshold into a season that’s all about working through the chaos to discover what is essential. The ashes that lead us into this season remind us where we have come from. They beckon us to consider what is most basic to us, what is elemental, what survives after all that is extraneous is burned away. With its images of ashes and wilderness, Lent challenges us to reflect on what we have filled our lives with, and to see if there are habits, practices, possessions, and ways of being that have accumulated, encroached, invaded, accreted, layer upon layer, becoming a pattern of chaos that threatens to insulate us and dull us to the presence of God.

I love to chant, and I recently discovered chantblog. For those of you who love to chant here are the Lauds and Vespers hymns for Ash Wednesday and Lent.

I have yet to settle on a Lenten discipline, although I am thinking of making more room for silence in my life. What are thinking about during this Lent? What needs to be added to your life? What could you do without?

Did you know there are only eight verses in the Bible that discourage women from speaking and holding leadership positions in the church? Did you know there are thousands of verses in the Bible that tell the stories of women who were leaders in their homes, towns, and religious circles? Meet the women in the Bible who were religious & civic leaders, business women, & women who challenged both Jesus and Moses in What You Didn’t Learn in Sunday School. What else didn’t you learn in Sunday School? Find out when you buy What You Didn’t Learn in Sunday School: Women Who Didn’t Shut Up & Sit Down from Wipf and Stock Publishers or Amazon.com today.

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  6 Responses to “Ash Wednesday Reflections”

  1. Happy Lent, Shawna! Great references.

    I am doing daily mass for Lent (Sunday and Wednesday or Thursday at the parish and other days here in private prayer). I’m also giving myself the same internet time limit I give my son and trying to break my habit of lateness by being five minutes early to everything!

  2. I haven’t been keeping up with centering prayer. I haven’t even been attempting to keep up with centering prayer. I’ve decided this is the discipline this morning. 2 sessions of 20 minute prayer just as Keating prescribes.

  3. Thank you for a really solid blog to get the Lenten season started. Reading your post this morning and then sitting in my own Ash Wednesday service inspired me to start Lent with a written reflection, so thank you for sharing.

  4. I helped distribute Ashes at the hospital where I twice weekly bring communion to the sick. I live in NJ and there is a consistent triad of patients: Italian, Irish, Polish, Italian, Irish, Polish… So, Catholic business is brisk and there are a lot of stops to make. The Ashes at the hospital and Mass before hand to pick them up didn’t make nearly the impression on me as my later trip to the local Mall did. A young good-looking vendor at one of those Mall kiosks came up to me, and I quickly tried to brush him off telling him I wasn’t buying. He say no, no, no and put his hand on my shoulder and moved his face to close to mine, creating an intimate environment, to ask me a question. He swirled his hands about his face and asked what was with the mark on my head, he had see so many people with the mark all morning (remember, Jersey..Italian, Irish, Polish….) I exmplained to him about the Ashes and Lent and how it was in preparation for Easter. His accent made me think he was from Israel, and it turned out he is. He listened very carefully and was so happy to understand what had been to him a secret he wanted in on. He seemed to appreciate our ritual was glad to understand it now…and I enjoyed sharing it with him. Thanks Shawna for getting us a little more focused, it our taking the time, by your example to write about Lent.

  5. Thank you Mark and Terry for stopping in and sharing your stories.

  6. Good stuff

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