Lenten Journal

I am shamelessly borrowing this post title from my internet friend Milton, who has blogged through this season for years – as long as I can remember a blogging presence on the internet. Every year at this time, I lean into Don’t Eat Alone as I journey through Lent.

I need a consistent writing practice. I need consistency in most areas of my life; in so many ways, this 40-day span of time seems established to honor our basic humanity. Lent invites us to make things right, somehow; fitting that the crucifixion and resurrection offer the same thing.

And fitting that we know, deep in our souls, that making things right requires sacrifice. Observing Lent generally includes a discipline of sacrifice – fasting, giving up something; measuring time by what we deny.

I have found this to be true of my own spiritual growth, that it necessitates stepping back, relinquishing, letting go. Doing a hard thing, which is what fasting is – denying a natural appetite, or redirecting a habit.

I have chosen my practice for these 40 days; it is a mix of sacrifice and presence. My hope is that I will be changed in these days – not only at the end, but in every moment along the way. There is some small comfort in the knowledge that so many of us are journeying together, beyond Sundays, in a daily rhythm. The Ash Wednesday service at our local Methodist church yesterday was full of friends from around the community; it was a sacred space, marked by words and silence. We shuffled together towards the pastor, who waited – bowl of ashes in hand – to greet each of us with the smudged reminder of our mortality. I felt connected to each person in the room, in a way that goes beyond the faith that calls us to Sunday services. Each body there represented some slight hope, a faith that can interrupt the daily routine, a submission to a visual mark of tribal unity.

It was a blessing, a balm; a moment marking the beginning of an annual journey through the valley of the shadow of death, into joy.

I ran errands for the remainder of the day; retail shops, places full of people. I even had to run into the mall at one point. And while two people looked at me and immediately gasped,“Oh! I totally forgot it was Ash Wednesday….”, I walked alone. I didn’t see one other person whose forehead was smudged with ashes. 

I felt very alone, but not alone. Set apart, sensing the odd looks from folks who may have been thinking, Girl, wash your face! as something more than a hot book title. Practicing the presence of God as I walked, with a dirty forehead, among all those created in his image.


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