Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Happy Ash Wednesday!

Ash Wednesday might be my favorite day in the liturgical calendar. It's a pretty nondescript holiday that hasn't been corrupted by commercialism...yet. It's an important part of my personal spiritual life to be disciplined for 40 (47) days that culminates in celebrating Holy Week. Every year I get questions about why I observe Lent and why it is important to me.

"I didn't know you were Catholic."
"I'm not. I'm Presbyterian."
"Oh, I thought that was just a Catholic thing."
"Nope. I've been doing Lent since elementary school at my Presbyterian church."

This year I have decided to give up complaining as a part of my Lenten fast. It will be a very difficult thing to cut out of my life, but I think it will help to make me more self-aware. We have so much to be thankful for, but we so constantly complain about what we don't have. Hopefully this will allow me to cut out some negativity out of my and shine more of my light and God's love to the world. A recent trend in Lenten practices has included taking up something new rather than giving up something. This year I am also adding a new practice to hopefully complement the lack of complaining. I want to write down three things for which I am grateful each day of Lent. Perhaps this will become a lifestyle change. We let so many of our blessings go by without recognizing them as such. Additionally, no matter how bad a day seems, we must remember that God has still blessed us with so much. It's about seeing the silver lining of beauty and joy in the sometimes dark depressing cloud that is the world.

Today two of my friends have reminded me of my Ash Wednesday last year in Jerusalem. It was a roller coaster to say the least. I really needed a Christian spiritual experience a month into studying abroad in Jerusalem. I expected to have a service at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher at 6 pm. We arrived around 4 to do some sight-seeing beforehand because it was my first time visiting the holy site. Around 5:45 we started asking around for the service. Turns out it was actually at 6 am. I was sulking on the way home (an instance of not realizing my many blessings and complaining about something insignificant) and decided to try to make my own ashes in the apartment. That turned into an ordeal involving live plant leaves, a Hanukkah candle, lots of wax, and "ashes" that lasted about five minutes on my forehead.

This year I was able to attend Lexington Presbyterian Church's Ash Wednesday service and dinner, a much more straightforward affair than last year. It was another wonderful spiritual experience that I have not had in a while. The words of the imposition of ashes speak to my soul.

From dust you came. To dust you shall return.

It reminds me of the reality of humanity. As Walt Whitman put it, What good amid these, O me, O life? Answer. That you are here—that life exists, and identity; That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse." Our lifetimes are so short relative the length of history. Throughout these 40 days, I hope that my contribution to the powerful play will be to bring some light and positivity to this world.

"Dance, then, wherever you may be. I am the Lord of the Dance," said he. "And I'll lead you all wherever you may be, and I'll lead you all in the dance," said he.