Lenten reflections: ashes to ashes

I probably haven’t blogged long enough to re-post a previous entry, but I think this one is worth revisiting. Besides, in my attempt to give up working entirely for Lent this year, I figured a good place to start is with reposting previous articles rather than creating new ones.

Actually, since I have already engaged in all sorts of work today and it seems certain that there is no escape from it for the next 40 days, I will practice a new, daily spiritual discipline instead of fasting from anything this year. I pray that your Lenten journey will bring you closer to the presence of God, a greater commitment to your calling, and a refreshed love for God, self, and neighbors, *Sandy

Late winter-early spring was different before I knew about Lent. I think that my introduction to Lent may have actually been my introduction to spiritual disciplines in general. Before when I didn’t know about any spiritual disciplines – besides praying and reading my Bible, neither of which were accomplished with anything resembling “discipline” – I didn’t think about any of my indulgences. I’m talking about the way I spent my money, the things I chose to eat and drink, or how I chose to spend my time. I didn’t worry so much about how I could be a better neighbor or even a randomly-kind stranger.

Those things didn’t matter to me because I saw my faith in Jesus as something very personal. I didn’t see myself as part of a faith community. Frankly, I didn’t trust a lot of the people I went to church with. I learned not to trust church people when I was old enough to have a different social opinion from most of the ones I knew – because they turned on me in ways that I believed were unjustifiable for folks who claim to know Jesus. That sort of thing happens more than most people would like to acknowledge. I am grateful that God continued to pursue me, knowing how I felt about some of His other children and what I saw as their offenses and failures. Living life as an offended person is not a happy life.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust…that’s what most of us heard who received the imposition of ashes on Wednesday of this week. It sounds so “funeralish”. [My spell-checker hates it when I make up words!] But that’s what it’s about for me now: death and renewal until we get to the resurrection. I’ve been reading some of Fred Craddock’s sermons for a project and in one of those sermons, Fred said that he didn’t understand how any Christian expected to be invited to the resurrection party if they never attended the funeral. During this season, we have the privilege – all of us, collectively – to experience again through spiritual disciplines the suffering that Jesus experienced, even to the gut-wrenching death, all for the sake of our reconciliation with God.

So, in light of that understanding, I am compelled – more happily than ever – to let die some of my indulgences and stinkin’ thinkin’ as the Holy Spirit reveals those things to me. One of the first things that had to go in order to get to this place was my misguided notion that I could follow Jesus in isolation. A faith that turns inward is no faith at all. It is when we reach out in faith to share something of ourselves with others that we encounter Jesus. He didn’t stay dead, remember? That is a deal-breaker for determining whether you’re a Christian or not. We talk and sing about His resurrection, but many of us live like Jesus just died. When you encounter the risen Savior, the only possible response is to be changed. Transformed! It’s easy to change personal habits, but I’m convinced that only encounters with Jesus can change our bad attitudes and misguided beliefs.

I carry the ash mark and a small piece of sackcloth with me through this Lenten season along with Christians around the world. It reminds me of Jesus’ ministry, death, and resurrection, the history of the Church, and my journey with Jesus as I meet so many friends on the path with me.

Yom What?: A Lesson in Fasting, Prayer and Repentance

It was four years ago that I stumbled upon Yom Kippur. As a Christian growing up in the rural American South, I didn’t have Jewish friends or neighbors and never was exposed to any Jewish holidays or practices. Granted, my family name is largely a Jewish name. Several family members have a strong affinity for all things Jewish – I call it our cellular connection – but we have been estranged from that part of our heritage. Nevertheless, for reasons totally outside of myself, I was led to this annual practice of fasting, prayer and repentance.

The first time I did it, I was led to the decision to fast without even knowing that it was coinciding with Yom Kippur. While I was googling proper ways to fast, since I had never done it before, I literally stumbled upon the description of Yom Kippur and used it as my model for what I believed God was leading me to do.

Have you ever needed to hear from God so desperately that you physically ached to find His presence and hear a word from Him? That was my frame of mind when the Holy Spirit led me to this initiation into fasting. I had no idea what to expect, but I knew I had to seek Him with everything I had and to do something I had never done before . . . because what I had been doing simply was not enough any more. The experience was life-changing for me. I learned that God is just as eager to meet us where we are – and His desire is to give us the hope, strength, courage, comfort , or whatever else we so desperately need.

I may feel led to fast at various times throughout the year during times of seeking or despair or thanksgiving, but Yom Kippur holds a very special place in my heart. It isn’t because it’s a Jewish holiday. It is because God himself led me into that time of communion, prayer and repentance and I consider it to be an annual date! It is a bonus in my mind that He used a Jewish holy day to speak to me in such a powerful way.

Yom Kippur is known as the Day of Atonement. We think of atonement as it applies to what Jesus accomplished once and for all for humanity: at-one-ment with God. Being reconciled to God through Jesus Christ is our gift. This year, Yom Kippur begins at sundown on Friday night and ends at sundown on Saturday night. Perhaps you have been seeking God’s answers to your most puzzling problems. Perhaps you have a need to spend time confessing and repenting for your personal sins, or maybe the collective sins of your family, your church, or our nation. Maybe the Holy Spirit has nudged you toward the spiritual discipline of fasting but you have felt uncertain about how or why to even do it. I encourage you try it. You may be led into the most wonderful experience of your life!