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13 February 2013

Ash Wednesday 2013

Another year has passed and has brought about another Lenten season. I always look forward to Lent. It gives me more focused and dedicated time to contemplate my faith and to exercise the strength of conviction in what I believe. I look forward to the penitential nature of the season and the anticipation of Christ's resurrection on Easter morning. The three days leading up to Easter, the Paschal Triduum, are a few of my favorite days of the liturgical year, with each day being dedicated to a specific stage in Christ's journey to the Cross.On Maundy Thursday, we celebrate the Lord's Last Supper and many churches offer services that include the washing of the feet. On Good Friday, we collectively mourn as Christ is put to death for the sins of all mankind, including those to come more than 2000 years after the nails were driven into his flesh. Holy Saturday finds our church bare, with no sacraments offered (except to the sick), while we anxiously wait for our Lord to rise again. In many ways, our church is closed and lost to us, just as we are closed and lost without Christ's guidance. And then Easter arrives, a glorious new day and a new life dawning each year. We wake to find that Christ has indeed risen, and God's power and majesty silences us to awe and reverence once again. We are reminded of the greater plan that is far beyond any of our comprehension, and we are eager to celebrate and rejoice in our salvation. While Christmas has the air of excitement and promise, Easter has the air of anticipation and promises fulfilled. 

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

For me, every Lent is different, but, in many ways, every Lent is the same. I begin each Ash Wednesday with a 7am service at  a local church. I think it important to receive my ashes (and communion) early in the day so the symbol of my sinful nature is worn openly and obviously all day. In many ways I want people to ask me why I have "dirt" on my forehead. It gives me the opportunity to explain what Ash Wednesday is and why I, like everyone else, am a sinner. After services, I rush to work where most of my students ask me those very same questions. I fast all day, only breaking for a small snack at some point (generally after dark), and the feeling of utter exhaustion that I feel at the close of the day reminds me of how I need God for strength just as I do food. I make promises of sacrifice and service that I will (try) to fulfill over the next 40 days. And this year is no different. I've attended my Ash Wednesday services, I've fasted, and now it's time to make my Lenten promises. 

As a part of my service promise, I'm going to be doing daily devotionals. This is hard for me given the stresses on my time, but I figure that if Christ can die for me, I can spare five minutes to sit in quiet reflection. My amazingly talented and insightful girlfriend in Houston Kirsten has published her Lenten devotional and I'll be using that for my daily meditations. Even though she's writing from a Protestant perspective, Lent is Lent. 

This year, I'm giving up more than chocolate. I'm giving up all junk food. I've realized that my vice isn't just chocolate but it's snacks and pop. So I'm going to make a bigger sacrifice and stop all of it for 40 days. I'll allow myself a home baked treat once in a while but the ice cream and soda and chips and candy and general junk is banished. 

I'll also be fasting every Tuesday during Lent. While I hate fasting because of the hollow feeling deep inside when I do, it is a useful exercise is reminding myself of where my true nourishment comes. 

I think, given the current state of my life, that three Lenten promises are enough this year. I always end of making too many and then I fail. I definitely try to meet all my promises, but too many is just too much. I'm going to focus my energy on completing three solid and meaningful promises.
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