Lent 1: Ashes

So my first day of Lent 2010 was interesting.  I did actually manage to get out of the driveway, which was something unaccomplished on Fat Tuesday.  Snow is shaping everything we do and don’t do around here for now.

But the day began in a more Easter-ly fashion.  M&I went for our now-bi-weekly midwife visit.  With a few measurements and not so few questions, we began our day discussing the probability that new life will enter our home a mere 2 months from now.  I did not consider it at the time but it would be an interesting opening bookend to the day.

I retired to the office to finalize the service for Ash Wednesday and spent a few minutes bemoaning the fact that I threw out last years palms.  Luckily, being married to another clergy saved my ashen day.  I also bemoaned that I did not really know Joel that well.  I only read this text on this day, then I put Joel away.  What?  There’s a book called Obadiah?  For my love of Isaiah, you’d think that I would have checked out his prophetic neighbors more often.  Add that to my Lenten discipline list.

I love to sing, and I love the more melancholy tunes of Lent.  Minor keys, linear melodies and tunes that are centuries older than Fanny Crosby.  I had forgotten my guitar as I worried how to exit the driveway.  So I figured all singing that evening would be a capella:  “Come and fill our hearts with your peace” (Taize), “Sing Alleluia to the Lord” (I know you’re supposed to abandon alleluia’s during Lent) and “Guide My Feet” (old gospel tune).  Wait!  None of these are ancient, minor keys or all that melancholy.  But I had something else in mind anyway.

As far as disciplines go, I have several in mind.  1a) I am reprising last year’s discipline of driving the speed limit at all times.  This was made silly as snow has forced me to drive well under the speed limit on many occasions recently.  At the same time, when I get to clear pavement, I have tended to make up for lost time by running the gear shifter as quickly as possible.  Add to that the “Rocking the Free World” playlist on my iTunes, and I have a regular tendency to speed up.  It just may be that this primary discipline may force a secondary action: to listen to calmer music while I drive.  We’ll see.  1b)  I am trying to give up using a certain foul word, one regularly employed while driving alone.  I also talk to myself in the shower, revisiting old grievances, during which I also regularly employ said (well unsaid) foul word.  2)  I am trying to fast lunches.  I am deliberately thwarting the advice of the Lord and telling you this.  You see, I can be quite the conceit.  So for me to fast secretly runs the risk of me thinking myself more righteous than I am.  It would be better for me to carry the guilt of telling than the pride of self-righteousness.  Nevertheless, I did well on Ash Wednesday.  Of course, I gorged myself come dinner time.  There is a running conversation between M and me regarding my tendency to dive head-first into wild ideas.  She thinks 1/week is a good starting point for fasting lunches.  I have said all lunches save Sunday.  Stay tuned for who wins this debate.  [While writing this, I was called away to get my wife’s 4WD car out of the snowy driveway, whereby I violated discipline 1b several times.  My 2WD has little chance again today, it seems.]  3)  I am giving up Facebook for Lent.  This is a total whim.  One of my FB friends announced that she was giving it up for Lent.  I admire her as a woman of God with a spirit I envy.  I thought, oh, yes, I can do that.  I decided this on Tuesday evening (11PM-ish) while I ate cookies.  I did check in at 7:30AM-ish Wednesday, but have since removed the simpler ways from my browser.  Perhaps that means I will be blogging more again, which would be nice (3b?).  4)  I have yet to decide what to read during Lent and it is already Thursday.  In my office at church, I have set aside Neibuhr’s The Nature and Destiny of Man, Vol. 1 as well as a book on blood atonement (which I generally disagree with).  I need a Biblical text to negotiate, perhaps Ezekiel, because he is freaky and entertaining.  I’ll get to it sometime.  I do tend to read The Last Week by Borg and Crossan during Holy Week.  5)  One discipline that is strictly between me and God. 6)  Trying to visit all parishioners in their homes during Lent.  I tried this last year and got about 80%.  This year I will try to include a blessing of the home as part of the visit.

As I headed to dinner, I checked in via phone with several parishioners.  I heard that one was making a move, which will be his last one before eternity.  Totally set Ash Wednesday in perspective.

I spent the intermittent moments of the day shoveling the walkway outside of the church.  It was not so bad save for the shovel being so short that I had to stoop over like Quasimodo.  But it felt good to remove snow for a greater purpose than being stuck.  I was preparing the church for church.

Evening came and I had two persons for Ash Wednesday service, a husband and wife.  They will be traveling this weekend as his sister succumbed to cancer and permission to go to the Lord.  I preached/meditated on Joel and talked about the reality of Ash Wednesday; about going deep into our souls; about the ashes coming from the palms used during Jesus’ triumphal entry; about the fact that however deep we go in Lent–be it into sin, injustice, suffering, loss–God is meeting us in those deep places.  It felt like the gospel.  I hope it was.

Now on Thursday, looking back, hindsight not nearly 20-20 yet, I can see God’s presence in so many ways.  I hope that continues.

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