I forgot Ash Wednesday. A year ago. I was in Chicago for the first week of my sabbatical, untethered from every device and schedule that frames my days and weeks and months. I even remember walking out of the Divinity House where I was staying, glancing across the courtyard and seeing some lights on in the Chapel. I thought, I wonder, but I was headed out for a walk and I just took a left and kept on stepping. Sometime later, for the first time in forty-four years of congregational ministry, it occurred to me that I had forgotten Ash Wednesday. For the first time since I can remember, Lent began without my assent – I went to bed without washing off any smudges.
It occurs to me that I only did what we are prone to do as we live out our days. I forgot as we constantly forget. It is not that we don’t carry the marks of our mortality constantly, but nothing forces us to take notice. Though we may rarely be aware and probably have no mind of it most of the time, we are creatures. We have been created by another whether we are focused on that truth at any given moment or not. From dust we came and to dust we shall return. And sinners – we are sinners whether we have considered that reality or not. We live much of our lives having forgotten – not a day so much as the truth of our existences.
Lent offers a possibility to be intentional – an opportunity to take our lives off cruise control. It invites us to spend some time thinking about those truths in our beings that we regularly forget. Some years, I do better than others. Some years I have gotten down to the probing of who and why I am; other years, I have just let my busyness rule.
That is one of the aims when we choose something to “give up for Lent.” Those who have more expertise than I in this discipline might tell us that within the act of giving something up lies the opportunity to turn away from some bad habit (smoking) or even some sin (gossiping) . . . or doing without might in some very small way lead us to connect to Jesus’ suffering . . . or it may be an act of giving up something insignificant because we are called to something better. But for me, giving something up for a time – like any act of fasting – puts an ever-present reminder in our days. Giving up chocolate, for instance, may not move you one step closer to sainthood. But for forty days, every time you see a piece of fudge pie or a Hershey’s bar, every time someone offers you a brownie or a chocolate-iced doughnut, your obliviousness is cracked. Oh yes – a mortal creature . . . a sinful being . . . that is who I am. Wow.
It strikes me that if ever there was a year to forget Ash Wednesday, this is it. Keeping our distance . . . worship services shipwrecked . . . and enough other misery in the wake of the pandemic to keep us self-absorbed. If ever there was a year when the pain of the season could slide right past us, 2021 is probably the year.
Don’t let it happen. Do better than your minister did last year in the Windy City. On Ash Wednesday, we are going to do open a few stations in the sanctuary for some of us to pass through – you may have already read about it on the front page. We will be keeping our distance in both time and space that afternoon and evening, but still, we know this is not for all of us. And if your health makes it unwise for you to participate in person, just know that there are other, more private ways to enter into this season. Just do it. Find a way to remember the creature that you are.
Blessings and Peace,
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These thoughts and reflections come from our Senior Minister, Minister of Music and Board Chair. We hope that they provide both challenge and inspiration for your spiritual life.