Dust + Ashes
ashes to ashes
bow low o penitent heart
hands cradle His WORD
cover worn, flaked, spine broken
of dust to dust — He saves me
(MDJ 2022 | #FromLentToEaster)
For many churches, including mine, the 2022 Lenten season began March 2 with Ash Wednesday services, and while I realize churches and Christians participate in Lent to varying degrees, the season has always been part of my practice. I grew up in a liturgical church that observed the rhythms of the church calendar, and it’s a cadence I continue to follow even though I’m in a different denomination.
Just as the season of Advent heralds the observation of Christ’s birth at Christmas, Lent is a time of preparation before another major milestone of Jesus’ earthly life and ministry. Generally observed with a theme of penitence, Lent occurs in the period of 40 days (not counting Sundays) ahead of Easter and is marked with an air of solemnity – repentance, fasting, reflection – that ultimately culminates with a celebration of Christ risen from the dead.
Over the last several years, my desire to follow these broader church traditions – the liturgical calendar – has increased as I find such practices to be full of depth and community. Observing Advent, for instance, has helped develop my awareness that God’s people have always been a people of waiting. In the first half of scripture, the people waited for the coming Messiah, now we await His return. As people come to a saving faith, together we become part of a waiting people that spans the ages, the nations, and stands the test of time. This understanding has been a tremendous source of comfort to me as I attempt to live out my faith in between the advents.
In a similar fashion, Lent has come to mean more to me as the years pass. I’m sure it’s not surprising, especially if you’ve read my columns for a while, that being solemn isn’t difficult for me. Sometimes I ache with sadness – more often than not of late – and writing helps me process the world and my place in it. With the recent heaviness of war in Ukraine on top of a pandemic, my spirit has ached more than usual. There are so many people experiencing heavy grief and trauma that it is overwhelming and painful.
But Lent gives me a place to fit and a space to process within a community of other believers who are also observing the season, and for that alone I am thankful. It’s also a joy to know that many others around the world are spending time in introspection and repentance as we all move toward Easter.
A typical element of Lent is the practice of fasting. I remember the first time I “gave something up” for Lent as a young teenager. I gave up Pop-Tarts. Even now I laugh a bit at this particular fast, but it did prove to be a test of self-denial, as I ate Pop-Tarts nearly every morning for breakfast. It was a test of commitment and endurance, as no one but me (and God) would know if I caved. As an adult, I’ve practiced varying degrees of fasting during Lent but have struggled to add this element the last two years. I think it’s mostly because I already feel so stripped back – it’s not that I don’t have more I could give up, but the thought of adding one more thing to the list feels more exhausting than compelling. I want to participate with joy and not compulsion, so I have chosen to abstain from this element.
Without fasting, one way I’ve found to continue being intentional in my observation of the season is to write poetry. Last year I read Rachel Welcher’s collection of poetry called “Two Funerals, Then Easter” and the book inspired me to write chronological poetry about a specific season of my life. In hindsight, the introspective practice served to help me process both joy and pain. The poetry collection isn’t complete because the heavy remembrance of pain became too great, but in the words that were completed, I let go just a bit more. It was fascinating how, even though I added a practice, I gave something up as well.
In 2022, I’m following suit with more poetry, only this year, I’m using poetry prompts Welcher posts via her social media platforms – on Twitter, @racheljwelcher – and where no one read the poetry I wrote last year, this year part of the challenge is to share. It’s my hope in doing so that my own introspection might resonate and minister to someone else – but if not, the intentionality of participating in something communal resonates with my own Lenten preparation. I’ve also, for the first time, attended the Hillsboro community Lenten services on Wednesdays at noon at the United Methodist Church. This year the messages are centered around Jesus’ hands, and I find myself looking forward to the gathering each week.
Two other wonderful ideas I’ve seen within the circles I follow on social media are author Ashley Hales’ commitment and encouragement for people to join her in “walking at a human pace” – to intentionally slow down and remember we are mortals. The practice is, in Hales’ words, “a gentle way to feel your limits and have Christ meet you in them.” You can find out more by visiting her Instagram handle, @aahales. Author and pastor Courtney Ellis has added “a simple, 10-minute daily exercise of stillness, awareness, and expectation” and invited others to participate. The action? Bird watching and “waiting for a daily ‘bird from the Lord.’” You can find a wonderful thread with photos on Twitter, @courtneyellis.
I’ve been encouraged by participating in the poetry challenge with other writers, as well as by observing the practices of other believers. I’m encouraged by attending Lenten services with people from the community. And I’m encouraged to know that many other fellow brothers and sisters throughout the world are also intentionally finding ways to practice reflection and introspection as we prepare our hearts, minds and bodies for the coming celebration.
Malinda Just has been writing Lipstick & Pearls for the Free Press since 2008. To read more of her writing, visit her blog, www.malindajust.com, or find her on social media @MalindaDJust.