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Ash Wednesday: The Traditions of Lent

Updated: Apr 7, 2022

Maryanne and I always choose a theme or a lens through which we want to experience Lent. If you have been following our blog, you know that this year, we are using the world relentless as our lens through which we will see Lent and prepare for Easter.

With the arrival of Ash Wednesday, Lent has officially begun. There is so much going on in the world around us that Lent arrives in the middle of many emotions and unanswered questions. So let’s check in: How are you doing? How are you feeling right now? Are you ready for Lent?

We hope that our time together during Relentless Lent and the practices we will introduce you to will give you the ground to stand on as you strive to be a part of the relentless way of being and living in this world: a world that not only shows us its hard places, but also beckons us to experience God’s ever-lasting presence, grace and love.

My husband grew up in Rio de Janeiro where the famous Carnaval is usually in full swing before Lent. He says that growing up, Christian churches would hold their retreats away from the city and its bustling streets, so that they could find some spiritual grounding away from the upside-down way of looking at life that Carnaval represents.

This tradition of feasting, excess, costumes, and parades is well known all around the world under different names and versions of carnival and Fat Tuesday. In fact, it dates back to medieval times and is possibly linked to the folk traditions of driving away the winter, and the need to consume the remainder of the winter food stores before they spoil.

Since I don’t participate in carnivals and Fat Tuesday is not a big tradition in my family, Ash Wednesday can take me by surprise. It seems like such a short time after we re-enter our post-Christmas lives and the “ordinary time” on the church calendar that Ash Wednesday comes along and says: FULL STOP. REMEMBER THAT YOU ARE ASHES.

Talk about a shock to the system!

The ritual of going to church to have the pastor put ashes on my forehead speaks to me louder than words. Ashes to ashes: I have been marked as mortal. Yet, the ashes also remind me of my place in God’s universe, the same ashes that are on my forehead have also formed the stars. What a great way to remember that I am a part of God’s great story of creation and that my place in this world was lovingly chosen. This ritual reminds me that I am a relentlessly beloved child whom God calls God’s own, and because of what is to come on Easter, my story doesn’t end with ashes.

There is another ritual of “being marked” connected to Easter: baptism. In baptism, we are marked with water and oil “as Christ’s own forever.” Traditionally, Lent has been used as preparation for baptism, the time of reflection and prayer spent purposefully as a way of getting closer to who God is calling us to be: His beloved children forever.

During Lent, not only are we marked as ashes, but also as God’s beloved children. We are invited to hold both realities with equal measure and live in the in-between truths of both.

Lent is full of rituals—from Ash Wednesday through the end of Holy Week, we participate in the last few weeks of Jesus’ life on earth using Scripture readings, traditions, sacraments, and music.

What rituals and traditions speak to you the most during Lent and Holy Week?

What readings, music or sacraments stir your soul?

We invite you to notice them through the lens of relentless. Where do you see the relentless nature of these rituals and traditions?

How are these traditions an invitation for you to see and taste the relentless, ever-lasting, unyielding, life-giving love of God in your life?

Join us next week for: The Ancient Practice of Shema.

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