When I was 17, I told a classmate he had a smudge on his forehead and tried to wipe it off for him. It was Ash Wednesday. Somehow I had made it 17 years without ever having heard about Ash Wednesday or Lent.
When I got to Westmont the next year, all my friends were “giving things up for Lent” and I remember thinking, “What the what? Isn’t this a Catholic tradition? Are all my friends secretly Catholic?”
They gave up sweets or meats, hot showers or their beds. One friend even gave up mirrors. I was still confused about this whole season of sacrifice so I refused to jump on the bandwagon when I was in college. Since then, it seems that the practice of Lent has become much more widespread. Maybe it’s always been popular and I’m just terribly unobservant, but in the past few years most of the people in my circle have become Lent participants. Perhaps we can thank social media for this as more and more people post about things they are giving up. (though ironically many people are giving up social media)
Whatever the reason, today everyone seems to be talking about Lent. And today I have ashes on my forehead for the first time.
As my colleague smeared the ashes and prayed over me, I thought, “Wow, why did Christians ever stop this tradition?” Why did we stop a ritual in which we are forced to remember our mortality- to number our days and live differently because of it. A ritual in which we turn from things we rely on and turn to our savior instead. A ritual that forces us to intentionally remember Jesus’ sacrifice. What a wonderful ritual!
There are many Catholic rituals I don’t understand. I have been to exactly 1 Catholic mass and remember giggling as the priest put the wafer on my tongue because I couldn’t help but imagine myself licking his hand. However, I think the Catholic Church is right to continue this ritual of Lent. In fact, I found the following Ash Wednesday Prayer on a Catholic website and read it to all my classes today:
Jesus, you place on my forehead
the sign of my sister Death:
Remember you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.
How not hear her wise advice?
One day my life on earth will end;
the limits on my years are set,
though I know not the day or hour.
Shall I be ready to go to meet you?
Let this holy season be a time of grace
for me and all this world.
Teach us to number our days aright,
that we may gain wisdom of heart.
O Jesus, you place on my forehead
the sign of your saving Cross:
Turn from sin and be faithful
to the gospel.
How can I turn from sin
unless I turn to you?
You speak, you raise your hand,
you touch my mind and call my name,
Turn to the Lord your God again.
These days of your favor
leave a blessing as you pass
on me and all your people.
Turn to us, Lord God,
and we shall turn to you.
Isn’t that beautiful?
This year instead of “giving up” something for Lent, I am adding something that I am told will make me happy. Allow me to explain.
During a lecture for my Theology class, the professor (a total silver fox, by the way) told us about an experiment that had been done at Dallas Theological Seminary. Apparently a large group of seminary students were given a personality test that placed them into one of three categories:
3- Clinically Depressed
There were many students in all three of the groups. (It seems going to seminary does not mean you won’t be depressed.) They also were asked about all the spiritual disciplines they practiced- all the Christian-y things that they did. How often they went to church, read the Bible, memorized scripture, sang, tithed, rested, prayed, fasted, served- you get the idea.
The study found that there was only one direct correlation between a spiritual discipline and being in the “happy” category. Every single person who practiced this discipline twice a day was found to be “happy.” So what was the discipline?
I assumed it would be prayer.
A classmate guessed that it was coffee.
The answer was scripture meditation.
I don’t know about you, but when I think of meditation I think of this:
However, the silver fox explained that scripture mediation is not quite as monkish as I had assumed. Instead, it involves reading a passage several times. Over and over again.
Letting the words sink in. Letting them “marinate.” Resting in them. Soaking them in. Talking to God about them. Listening to God about them.
The hope is that if you meditate on a passage in the morning, it will be at the forefront of your mind throughout the day. He also said that there is a reason David writes that we should meditate day AND NIGHT. Apparently one time of meditation isn’t enough to let the passage really seep in and saturate the soul. So we’re told to do it twice.
It seems David knew that our days would get busy and our minds would get occupied and as the day wore one, thoughts of God would slowly be replaced with thoughts of self. So he instructs to meditate at night as well. (Easy for him to say- he didn’t have episodes of Scandal or The Parenthood to catch up on at night.)
So thanks to King David and the silver fox (aka my professor) I will be meditating on the Psalms for Lent. I will start and end each day in a Psalm. However, I am a terribly forgetful scatter-brain, so I needed a tangible reminder. I’ve decided to write on my wrist the first letter of each word of a verse I want to think on during the day. I know this is a little weird but I’m a little weird. Here’s my reasoning:
1-The whole verse is too long to write, but the letters will remind me of the words and help me memorize.
2- Before iPhones existed, I used to write my to-do lists on my hands all the time and it was very effective (as long as I didn’t wash my hands).
3- I wash my hands more often now, so I’ve switched to the wrists.
4- I will forget about the passage unless it’s somewhere I’m continually looking.
5- I check out my wrists a lot. (They’re one of my finest features)
6- I used to want to get a tattoo of a verse on my wrist so I would have the daily reminder, but then I remembered that wrist-tats are for cool Christians.
7- I’m not very cool, so I’m settling for a pen-tattoo. Here’s todays passage from Psalm 1:
Yes, I purposefully showed you my beautiful gel nails. (my second-finest feature)
If you’re confused by the letters, here is the passage:
Blessed is the one… whose delight is in the law of the Lord and who meditates on his law day and night.
I’ve been talking with God throughout the day about what it looks like to be blessed by Him and how to delight in His word. It’s been a wonderful day.
I know I haven’t written much on this blog lately and to be frank, I probably won’t write a whole lot in the next few months. Life is good right now but life is full- so very full- so sleep and blogging have taken a back seat. However, I used my prep period today to write this post because I want to invite you to participate in Lent. If you haven’t already, hop on this Christian bandwagon. There’s plenty of room and it’s pretty awesome.
So whether you sacrifice something so you’re more cognizant of Jesus’ sacrifice, or you add something like scripture meditation (it will make you happy!), I hope that you are continually reminded of Jesus’ work on the cross and in your life today.
Shoot. I just wiped my forehead and got ash all over the keyboard.