Ash Wednesday is the beginning of the season of Lent in the Western Christian calendar. I am sure you can gather a lot of information off the internet, especially Wikipedia, about how this day and the following season operates and what all is included: various ways to fast and be attentive, practices to follow and prayers and books to read, services you can attend. At times in my past, I became extremely excited to describe to others all the information about this Lenten season. Probably because it makes me feel intelligent, and I always like opportunities to showcase that. But I also find this season truly fascinating and promising. Lent is a season that says to us “stop and think”, “reflect on what you are doing in life”, “quit pursuing all those other things that you think will make you more beautiful, more exciting, more appealing”. Stop trying to build your life as you see fit. I can’t speak for you, but I long for these statements to be made in my life. I can think up a thousand excuses to get away from this, but I know deep within myself that I crave these words like a man dying of thirst.
The deeper, implicit truth that lies within this season is a confrontation that kick starts on Ash Wednesday, and I think the truth that lies hidden reveals itself more clearly as the season of Lent moves forward. The truth is that we cannot so readily trust our own voice or the other voices that vie for our attention all the time. There are so many things that bang and clamor to be heard, and sometimes the loudest noises come from within ourselves. And we have to be honest that some of these voices speak death to us; the endless distractions of media and social networks, the vices we pursue that are advertised for our enjoyment, even inherently good things that we twist into evil through overindulgence. We have trusted that these would give us satisfaction, but what our souls desire is salvation. And they cannot produce it.
What Ash Wednesday encourages us to do is to silence those voices, at least for this season, so that we can listen to the voice that speaks truly and lovingly. That voice may seem silent now or even just a slight whisper, but as we approach Easter it is my belief that the voice begins to clarify and shape us if we will be attentive. It is a voice that I often do not trust initially, and honestly I don’t trust right now. But my hope is that through this season I will hear it all the clearer and recognize it’s speaker. That the voice is spoken by one who loves and heals, who sacrifices and creates space for others, who goes through death create life anew.
But the stark revelation that is spoken to us is that it is through death that we must pass to encounter this new life. And Ash Wednesday is a day to die, to burn down the things that do not offer life. We are called to mourn over the ashes for these things we have listened to and followed so dogmatically, and trust that the process of new life can begin today…