Ash Wednesday, 2007
It has been my experience that Ash Wednesday is a moment of solemnity in the year. Perhaps not a moment of outright grief, as Good Friday is, but certainly a time to make an attempt at humility, a time to recognize mortality, a time to deny ourselves the comforts of habits and vices and food, and as much as anything else, it’s all done to mark the beginning of this season that has just begun today, Lent.
Lent – this is a church season which most of us have had experience with in the past, and for most of us, maybe even all of us, that experience of Lent has been one of penitence and denial, based on the popular assumption (an assumption embraced by a significant portion of Christians world-wide) that we, the Children of God, are inherently sinful beings.
But this idea, that we are inherently sinful beings – this idea is not native to the Hebrew Scriptures that we call the Old Testament. And it’s not native to the four Gospel accounts of the ministry of Jesus found in the New Testament. And it’s not native to the Early Christian interpretation of this new movement we call Christianity, also found in the New Testament. No, this ‘inherently sinful’ idea came much later, four centuries years later.
Having said that, while I find it hard, very hard, to subscribe to the idea that we are inherently sinful, I think it is very useful to us all to set aside time every year to be introspective. I think it is very useful to, as our opening prayer puts it, “engage in a fearless moral inventory,” and then seek to be reconciled with God, with other people around ourselves, and to seek to be reconciled within ourselves. Because in the end, Lent isn’t about punishment, and it’s not about denial. It’s about encountering God, and it’s about daring to look unflinchingly at our own soul – unflinchingly, that is, with great honesty, and with great compassion.
And so, if you haven’t decided what to ‘give up’ for Lent, or if you’ve decided not to ‘give up’ anything this time around, or if you’ve already decided to ‘give up’ chocolate, or tobacco, or whatever, I urge you to compare your decision to this idea of encountering God, and looking unflinchingly at your own soul. Does your deicison help you, on a daily basis, to encounter God and …or fearlessly examine your own soul?
If it doesn’t, is it really worth spending your valuable time and energy on?