Because I Do Not Hope to Turn Again

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of the Christian penitential season of Lent. I always have a difficult time with this season, which I guess is the point of it.

My Lutheran pastor sent us a note yesterday with some thoughts on Lenten disciplines:

You are encouraged to practice self-denial (fasting), charity (alms-giving), and intensified prayer during this season. While there are traditional “rules” for fasting, please do not make Lent merely a season of following rules. The …

  1. Benjamin Glaser

    I have never been able, to be honest, to square the Ashes on the Head with Matthew 6:16. 

  2. Britanicus

    Great post, Mollie.

    I’m waiting for the 12:10 Mass at St. Matthews so I can see Cardinal Wuerl. It’s always nice to see all the ash adorned on people’s foreheads when walking around DC.

    For Lent (and beyond) I’m working towards learning more about my faith and living it more in my daily life. Reading the Bible more and learning from the Saints. My girlfriend and I are going down this road together and I hope that sharing the journey will make staying on the path easier.

    She’s unbaptized and not religious, but wants to get there. I’m trying to use Lent as a good starting point, for both of us.

    Anyhow, I always have a hard time with the alms-giving.

    Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve become hardened against charity insofar as as I am loathe to hand the homeless money anymore. I see the same faces on the streets every day with the same story.

    Anyone else feel this way? I don’t like how I’ve become jaded to it all.

  3. KC Mulville

    I’m not much for the giving up of arbitrary things, making it little different from New Year’s resolutions. I prefer to do more prayer; the sacrifice is usually setting aside the time to do it.

  4. Jordan Wiegand

    Reasonable goals is a good Lenten idea.  Also, giving up “sins” is actually not the idea of Lent.  During Lent we’re asked to give up good things we enjoy, not to give up stuff we’re already not supposed to do.  It’s sacrifice.  Even really small things can accomplish the goals, such as no music, or no spices on food (which can actually be much harder than it appears).  Point is, as my priest once told me, sacrificing bad things isn’t really a sacrifice.

    That, and admonish anyone who calls them “cheater Sundays.”

  5. Britanicus
    Benjamin Glaser: I have never been able, to be honest, to square the Ashes on the Head with Matthew 6:16.  · 9 minutes ago

    “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.17 

    But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face,18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.I had a similar thought a little while ago. As I understand it, the idea is that you don’t want to be boastful about it, or use it in a “Holier than Thou” way.

    The ash seems different, though, because it’s not done out of pride, but out of solidarity. The ash represents human mortality and the longing and mourning for Christ, not as a personal merit badge, no?

    I certainly see your point though. I’m sure other members who know much more than me will have a better answer.

  6. Mollie Hemingway
    C
    Britanicus:

    Anyhow, I always have a hard time with the alms-giving.

    Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve become hardened against charity insofar as as I am loathe to hand the homeless money anymore. I see the same faces on the streets every day with the same story.

    Anyone else feel this way? I don’t like how I’ve become jaded to it all. · 2 minutes ago

    Yes! Of course! I actually came across a great quote from Luther about it — and that it was written 500 years ago helped me realize that nothing is new under the sun. He writes of helping the same people over and over — and how you shouldn’t worry about helping the same people over and over again. But it’s much more eloquent and inspiring. I’ll find it and put it in this thread when I can.

  7. Frightened American
    Benjamin Glaser: I have never been able, to be honest, to square the Ashes on the Head with Matthew 6:16.  · 24 minutes ago

    “It’s always nice to see all the ash adorned on people’s foreheads when walking around DC.”

    Britanicus made your point.  

  8. Spin

    As far as giving goes, don’t give money.  My wife went through a time where she kept zip-loc bags with toothpaste, toothbrush, and a pair of socks in them, in the car.  If she say a homeless person she’d hand them a bag.  On another occasion I saw a woman standing on a corner with her kid.  I collected up clothes and food at work and home and took them to her.  That was perhaps my most humbling experience.  I was so worried about what people driving by would think, and would anyone from work see me talking to her.  But it was so gratifying to give her the things.  People who are poor and homeless often times have their own decisions to blame for being there.  They often continue to make those same bad decisions.  But that makes them no less human.  And all they want is for the world to recognize that.  

  9. Dave

    Several years ago I heard a priest recommend that rather than giving something up you should do something positive instead. So I  decided I would go to mass once during the week in addition to on the weekend. I calculated that if you give something up, you have to do that all the time but if I went to daily mass, that’s only a half hour per week! Plus, I never like the keeping-a-streak-alive aspect of giving something for Lent.

    Anyway, it turned out to be one of the best experiences of my life. I learned so much and kept going to church once during the week even after Easter. I did this for years, coming to prefer the simplicity and quiet of daily mass. Unfortunately since moving to a new city I’ve fallen out of the practice (still go on the weekend of course); my schedule and the local mass schedule just don’t mesh.

    So try doing something positive rather than giving something up. And make it something that you can actually do.

  10. cm2006

    Right now I’m in my wife’s village in South-southwest China, a Tai Lue village close to the Mekong River. Most of the Lue are Buddhist, but about 1% are Christian. When I came here 17 years ago, they really only celebrated Christmas, so seeing them understand and celebrate Easter was encouraging.

    Am trying to share more about the Christian calendar so Lent is a season whose time has come for them to learn about.

    My background is Lutheran, but I’m from Minnesota where there are lot of German Catholics so I’m not totally unfamiliar with Lent. As a kid we had Wed eve services all throughout, with the lights very dim.

    This country has year after year 6-7% growth and people are buying nice cars and building new homes, even here in the boondocks, so Lent, for me here, means remembering as Mollie posted above in the quote “all good things come from God.”

  11. Aaron Miller

    The ashes are a mark of death, which itself is a mark of sin. To live the day with the ashes on one’s head is not boastful because it is a public admission of sin, of one’s need of being saved. It is a sign of humility (“Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”)

    One can misuse that symbol (“Look at me! I’m so humble.”) as one can abuse anything. But the tradition itself is good.

    The sacrament of Confession / Reconciliation was once similarly public. It was originally understood that all sins distance us from both God and our fellow human beings, so our confessions and reparations are owed to both. Christianity is a family. When you reject the Father, you reject the rest of the family as well.

  12. Dave
    Benjamin Glaser: I have never been able, to be honest, to square the Ashes on the Head with Matthew 6:16.  · 44 minutes ago

    This passage is talking more about the internal attitude, doing religious practices for show rather than in a spirit of self sacrifice and desire for God. I doubt it’s supposed to mean that you should never show any outward sign of your devotions. That would he impossible.

    Although I’m sure some people wear their ashes as a sign of their righteousness, that’s a defect in them not the practice itself.

  13. Spin
    One can misuse that symbol (“Look at me! I’m so humble.”) 

    This may be right on the edge, and maybe I shouldn’t post it at all, but I ream cm2006′s post, and then yours and when I read “I’m so humble” all I could think of was some poor vietnamese person going around with ashes on their forehead saying “Me so humble!”  

    Sorry…but that’s funny.  To me anyway.  I’m giving up trying to be funny for Lent.  

  14. Britanicus
    Frightened American

    Benjamin Glaser: I have never been able, to be honest, to square the Ashes on the Head with Matthew 6:16.  · 24 minutes ago

    “It’s always nice to see all the ash adorned on people’s foreheads when walking around DC.”

    Britanicus made your point.   · 17 minutes ago

    Can you elaborate more on this? Putting ash on your forehead reminds us that “you were made from dust, and to dust you will return.” It isn’t something that I’m doing to show the world how super I am for fasting.

    Matthew 6:16 seems to speak more to the person who loves telling others how charitable they are, or about how they are so humble. Am I reading this wrong?

  15. Spin

    In all seriousness, I just came through 3 weeks of what has been referred to as the Daniel Fast.  It’s based on Daniel refusing food from the King’s table as he sought to hear from God.  Sunday was the last day.  There are variations of the fast, and for us, we gave up all animal based foods.  No meat, no cheese, no milk, no eggs, etc.  The goal for us was to hear from God.  I’m not sure we did.  We ended the fast with me having surgery and getting deathly ill from the anesthesia and Percocet, and my wife getting really sick.  So we haven’t really discussed the process yet.  

    For lent I’m giving up being so dang busy all the time.

  16. Aaron Miller

    I’m giving up Ricochet for Lent. Well, starting tomorrow. Or Friday. Or next week.

    Oh, forget it.

  17. Joan of Ark La Tex

    This Ash Wednesday is symbolic. Because our beloved dog who passed, Mowgli, his ashes is home. Saturday night was Chinese New Year eve, a night of family reunion, his ashes came back that day. Last night, as a family, we place him on the piano top below the cross.  As always, he pulls us closer to God. 

    Since he passed, this house hasn’t felt the same. He was a little piece of heaven we had been gifted to indulge with. 

    Thanks Mollie for this post. It helps me focus as we start a more prayerful season. 

  18. Schrodinger

    …you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

    Genesis 3:19

    From Divine Intimacy:

    These words, spoken for the first time by God to Adam after he had committed sin, are repeated today by the Church to every Christian, in order to remind him of two fundamental truths – his nothingness and the reality of death.

    … Our pride , our arrogance, needs to grasp this truth, to realize that everything in us is nothing. Drawn from nothing by the creative power of God, by His infinite love which willed to communicate His being and His life to us, we cannot – because of sin – be reunited with Him for eternity without passing through the dark reality of death.

     

  19. notmarx

    During the penitential seasons, for bedtime prayers, I replace the Act of Contrition with the Miserere (Psalm 51 for Catholics).  That powerful poem, David’s cry for mercy after his great sin with Bathsheba, carries a strong sense of the weight of sin – the alienation from the Creator, the spoliation of the personal, the interpersonal, the social, the religious.   

    Living in the world of that very intense contrition year-round I think I would find paralyzing.  As a penitential practice twice a year it serves as a reminder I can’t help but take to heart: I’ve done things and do things I need to repent; and in the past, my prayers for forgiveness have met forgiveness.    

  20. Fricosis Guy

    These days wearing ashes may qualify you as a religious institution that must pick up someone’s contraceptive coverage.

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