Feel the burn

No, this blog post isn’t an endorsement for Bernie “feel the bern” Sanders.

It is an endorsement for the season of Lent and Ash Wednesday in particular.

I know not everyone at Rainbow can endorse Lent/Ash Wednesday. Some people experience Lent as a morbid part of the church year with talk of giving things up, sin, and sacrifice. And yet for others Lent is a time of great renewal, awakening, or as someone once put it while waiting to receive ashes, “I never feel so alive than on Ash Wednesday.”

Last Sunday our Rainbow WorshipArts group got a head start on Lent by going outside to burn the Palm Sunday branches from last year. They did this in the Rainbow Remembrance Garden, an appropriate place to reflect on beginnings and endings.

The children had a lot of questions, including one many of us ask this time of year:

Why ashes? 

I wasn’t with the children during this burning activity, so I’m not sure how I would have responded to their questions. I might have mentioned that in Genesis 18:27 and Job 30:19, dust and ashes are mentioned as components of the human body. Furthermore, in Jewish and Christian history, ashes are a sign of mortality and repentance: Mortality, because when we die our bodies return to the dust and ash of the earth. Repentance, because in ancient times when people felt remorse for what they had done, or sorrow in the face of grief, they would put ashes on their head and wear sackcloth.

Obviously you won’t see this pastor or anyone for that matter walking around in sackcloth, at least not if I/we can help it. But you might see people with an ash marking. I’d encourage everyone to be curious about people’s reasons for participating in such a ritual. And I’d encourage you to be reflective about your own reactions/meaning- making around this ritual.

Everyone has their different reasons for participating or not participating in this ritual. For me, as I give and receive ashes this year, I will probably have in mind the following reflection by my friend John Bergen. I will be asking myself what I’m willing to put on the line for my faith. I will be praying for courage in the face of dust.

From John:

Hey y’all, its the week of Fat Tuesday and Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent! My favoritest time of the Christian calendar! I’ve been thinking about this time, marking the transition from Jesus’ base-building in northern Palestine to leading the march on Jerusalem. We prepare for a week of direct action (Holy Week), culminating in mourning a state murder and celebrating God’s overcoming of the death and imperial death culture. Its a lot!

A lot of us who were raised Christians were/are asked to “give something up” for Lent – chocolate, alcohol, whatever. On the flip side, I often here Christians talking about “adding something extra” for Lent – more intentional prayer practices, more service to the poor, etc. These are both fine, but I don’t think that was Jesus’ message. As we celebrate the duality of Fat Tuesday and Ash Wednesday this week, I’m remembering that its not about contrasting hedonism and asceticism, but rather treating ourselves in joy and celebration, and then asking ourselves what we’re willing to put on the line for our faith. When Jesus talked about giving up, he wasn’t talking about shrinking ourselves or our habits, he was asking us to be brave.So much of the rhetoric around Lent can be a mask for conversations about privilege – I should consume less, serve more, be somber about suffering, etc. But what are we willing to put on the line? What can we give for our movements? This may be us consuming less, or giving more, or it may be us doing less activism and taking care of ourselves. Maybe it means having hard conversations with friends, or speaking the uncomfortable things we hold inside. So many things.

All are invited to Rainbow for a contemplative Ash Wednesday Service February 10, 5:45-6:30 pm.  And for those interested in other Lenten services/activities at Rainbow, click here: Lent information

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