This morning we awoke to another day of likely being homebound. It began with ice early in the week and now I'm watching snow fall and listening to the wind-chimes chime rapidly. We've been off the roads a lot this week. Our part of the country (Middle Tennessee) simply doesn't experience this type of weather enough to have the tools to travel safely. Our church, which is across the street, has canceled Ash Wednesday services for tonight. And, while I completely agree that even attempting the steep drive into our church building could be treacherous, I am a bit (okay, a lot) saddened to miss the imposition of ashes. I didn't even realize this tradition was so important to me until today. I did not grow up in a church where we received ashes on our foreheads (sounds odd, right?) to mark the beginning of the Lenten season. And yet, as we journey toward Easter, I'm longing for that very mark today.
As I woke this morning to the snowfall, I had an overwhelming longing for our family to share in the observance of Ash Wednesday together in our home (I realize the excitement may not be shared by my housemates, but they have agreed to journey along with open hearts and minds). As I rushed to my computer and grabbed my Book of Worship, my husband asked what I was doing so early on this Wednesday. Typically, I would be heading out to teach a weekly yoga class but it was canceled due to the weather. And, I likely should be washing laundry or doing chores that I have no valid reason for ignoring today (that will come later, there's time!). But first, God called me to sit as his feet and ask why I am clinging to a tradition of dust and ashes. So here I sit, longing for ashes in the snow.
Why is Ash Wednesday important to Christians today? A friend and I were chatting yesterday about Google as a spiritual tool (I'm so thankful technology has connected me to a world much bigger than my own as I've grown in my spiritual journey). When I asked myself that question about Ash Wednesday, Google led me to this post at Patheos. I'm reminded Ash Wednesday is important not simply due to tradition but because this is a time that we are drawn to focus on not simply life in Christ, but also death in Christ. And while death may be hard to talk about, it is vital to fully living as a follower of Christ. Whether or not you have a tradition of marking the start of the Lenten season, consider this day an opportunity to mark the start of the path with intention as we journey toward Easter and this new life.
Do you have to "give something up" for Lent? No, I don't think you have to "give something up" to experience this season fully. But, I do think that the only way to make space for something new is to let go of something old, to make space for the new work God is doing in you (like cleaning out a closet to make room for new finds). So, what could you let go of to make space for the new work God wants to do in you during this season? This is a great list to get you started on ideas (i.e. it doesn't have to be chocolate).
So, how can I begin and mark this Easter journey with my family? Create a sacred space in your home by finding a candle, cross, Bible, or other small object that may remind you of Christ's love for you. This post has some fantastic suggestions for creating sacred space during Lent. Turn on some music by clicking here for a Lenten playlist on Spotify from my friend, Eric Coomer. Then for your ashes, grab a candle and break off some burnt wick or you could burn a bit of newspaper (outdoors, please). I tried to prep some ashes for our family and was reminded that is the kind of thing you do outdoors! Use caution and go lightly here - no allergic reactions needed. Service ashes are typically made from palm branches. So, this isn't ideal! You could also simply make the sign of the cross with your finger or use an essential oil. This is not about legalism but symbolism. Gather your (willing and hopefully as excited as you are) loved ones or sit and reflect on your own. Read the scripture, mark the sign of the cross on your forehead, and give thanks for a season in which God is making you new amidst the dust and ashes (and even the snow).
Click here or below to download this family-friendly guide that includes scripture and prayer as you mark your own Ash Wednesday. God is making all things new in this season. Let's make space together as we journey toward Easter.
Whitney R. Simpson
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Whitney R. Simpson,
Exploring Peace Ministries, LLC