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Feb 14 / Bill

Lent has begun, and I am ready for it. I think. I do know I need it.

February 14, 2013

Lent has begun, and I am ready for it. I think. I do know I need it.

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, with a three-fold jolt to my core. But first the backdrop. I was not brought up in the liturgical-sacramental stream of the Christian faith. Quite to the contrary!! For so much of my life, starting in Latin America as a boy, anybody wearing “a white collar” represented “the other side”, i.e. Rome, Orthodox, and others who did not believe “the Truth”, or as we were taught in Latin America, “healthy doctrine (sana doctrina)”.

Then God pulled the big surprise of six years ago when we were irresistibly drawn into the very Evangelical Anglican tradition, an authentic renewal movement of orthodox, Gospel people and churches in North America. For Yvonne it was “The Return” to her roots; for me a radically new stage of my journey, my own pilgrimage to and with God.

About the turn of the century, while David served as arts pastor of Hope Chapel here in Austin, he introduced a few liturgical-sacramental elements into Hope’s life. The arts exhibitions in the chapel followed the ecclesial calendar; we began to celebrate Ash Wednesday and a powerful Good Friday service emerged. Ash Wednesday was a newer element to me, and when I began to understood what was happening, it could not become a “happy discovery”. Later I was asked to serve as one who imposed ashes, “to ash” someone, and that was sobering because I had to repeat, time and time again, “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

When God brought us six years ago into the Anglican fellowship and to the Christ Church community, we happily shared with Hope Chapel some of the Lenten Season events: Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday. It was a gracious and sweet convergence of two very distinct but mutually-respecting leaders and people.

Some years ago a dear friend who had recently lost his wife of many decades came to spend some recovery days with us here in Austin. And he attended Ash Wednesday; and I imposed ashes on his forehead; and then he burst into sobs, realizing that even then his wife’s body was returning to dust. Another year, a younger friend of ours came forward for the imposition, but she walked up with a very happy smile on her face; I looked soberly at her, indicating this was not happy hour; she abruptly realized what was happening, and slowly made her way back to her seat.

Last night we started with these words: “Dear friends in Christ, every year at the time of the Christian Passover we celebrate our redemption through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Lent is a time to prepare for this celebration and to renew our life in the paschal mystery. We begin this holy season by remembering our ongoing need to renew our repentance and faith, and our ever-present need for the mercy and forgiveness proclaimed in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We begin our journey to Easter with the sign of ashes, an ancient sign, speaking of the frailty and uncertainty of human life, and marking the penitence of the community as a whole. I invite you therefore, in the name of the Lord, to observe a holy Lent by self-examination, penitence, prayer, fasting and almsgiving, and by reading and meditating on the word of God. Let us kneel before our Creator and Redeemer.”

The first jolt:

The jolts last night came as the ashes were imposed on my forehead; I returned to my seat and simply began to weep. My dear 6-year-old granddaughter, Bronwyn, saw it and gently put her hand on my knee. My 14 year old grandson, Brendan, wrapped his arm around me. I wept because in a very profound sense I was seriously facing the reality of my own mortality. I will be 73 this year, and in the past year for the first time I have sensed in my own heart and body the realities that come with aging. It’s not morbidity nor fear of death; it’s reality.

The second jolt:

I observed a family of four come up, friends whom I so respect. The parents, the 6 year old girl and the wee infant were all ashed. I had never seen ashes on an infant and as they walked by I pulled mom and baby over for me to gaze with tears in my eyes on that sight. I suddenly remembered that this baby’s sister was fighting a fierce battle with cancer. What power both symbol and words of the imposition of ashes had! Another confrontation with mortality.

The third jolt? Well, I think I have to leave that for the following entry as I mull over not only Ash Wednesday but Lent itself.

Jolted, with gratitude to God for a heavy and meaningful liturgical calendar.

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