Valentine’s Day/Ash Wednesday in 2018
On the surface, the confluence of Valentines and ashes seems to produce an odd and uncomfortable couple, but it’s fitting to have one day of celebrating love in all its forms while also recognizing our mortality.
Love and dust? There’s no better pairing.
The ashes remind us that this phase of life is limited. We lose sight of how much each day is a precious gift. We fail to see the many possibilities for gratitude, celebration, and love that are present in each day. The hearts remind us that love creates us, animates us, and sustains us through our limited days. Love gives us this day and all its possibilities. Love is for everyone we can touch in some way, even strangers a half a world away. Together, the ashes and hearts remind us that we’ve got to decide how we’ll use today. Will we bring more division, pain, and indifference into our world? Or will we choose to do all that we can to make the world more as God would have it? We all must choose.
Lent sharpens our focus on what matters. It challenges us to get re-grounded and find creative ways to bring healing and love to others, especially the marginalized and the needy and the victims of injustice and abuse. Lent prompts us to examine what’s getting in the way of giving and receiving love in our lives. It calls out the insecurities and fears that form walls. It challenges our prejudices and our selfishness.
Above all, it forces us to see injustices and do something about them; to recognize those who are hurting and find a way to help heal them; to reach out to the outcasts and the refugees and embrace them.
We mustn’t waste the daily chances that God provides to make a difference.
Ultimately, Lent encourages us to forge a trail of love through our daily dustiness and to transform our ashy selves with creative acts of kindness and compassion. It reminds us that we are physical beings for now – formed in the elements of stardust – but we’ll always be animated by a breath of life and love that wants to guide us.
So, let’s heed the Valentine/Ash Wednesday reminders. And let’s pray for the faith and the courage to live each day boldly, kindly, and joyfully right up to the day when we exchange our heartbeat for a deeper place in God’s heart, which is love.
(Source: Joe Kay, Sojourners)
Fact: Australians are expected to spend a staggering $1 billion on Valentine’s Day gifts this year, more than ever before.
(Given the story of St Valentine, one can only ask – why?! How easy it is to lure/manipulate people by commercial propaganda for the sake of making a profit).
What Lent teaches us about real love (Valentine’s Day/Ash Wednesday)
I love that Valentine’s Day falls on Ash Wednesday this year. Valentine’s Day – that bane to single people and the unsentimental, the feast day of our culture’s obsession with love and romance – is momentarily subverted by a reminder of what love really looks like: self-denial and commitment. Ash Wednesday in many ways is one of the most passionate and powerful expressions of love – God’s love for us, and our love for God.
Ash Wednesday and Lent, the season of reflection and preparation for Easter, take love to a whole new level. Lent is a season of self-denial, a pushing away of distractions that keep us from enjoying our First Love. My priest likes to say, when imposing ashes, “Remember that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return – and remember that you are beloved.” In other words, life is short, and too often our priorities are completely jacked up. And though Lent is a time to mourn the ways we forget God, it is also a time to remember that we are still beloved.
In our human relationships, we would do well to remember the brevity and brutality of life. We won’t always have time to tell say “I love you” before our beloved can never hear it again. We can “stay connected” and always want to make time, but never quite get around to it; we can forget our partners in the tyranny of the urgent, or in the demands of parenthood; we can lose our loved ones far sooner than any of us anticipate.
Valentine’s Day does a great job at communicating love for one day, but it lacks the impetus or mechanism to help us do the hard work of love. And one thing required for the hard work of love is a repudiation of the very things that keep us from loving well. Ash Wednesday, with its accompanying fast, is that repudiation.
Falling in love makes you reprioritize your life. In those first blushes and crushes of human love, we can get butterflies in the pit of our stomachs; we forget to eat or lose our appetites. We can put off good things or even tasks that once seemed necessary and absolute because we cannot tear ourselves away from the object of our affection (eventually, my now-husband and I would go on grocery dates because we really needed food, but we also wanted to be together). We go into “hibernation” when we first fall in love, spending as much time with our beloved as we can.
When our beloved is God, Lent can be that hibernation period to fall in love all over again. God responds to the sin that keeps us from divine relationship, not by punishing us or withdrawing from us, but by wooing us away from other, lesser gods and back to the lover of our souls.
We even receive a special gift on Ash Wednesday. The ashes imposed on our foreheads are a sign of repentance and mourning, showing the severity with which we take our falling short. We are not supposed to display our fasting and repentance in a pious way, but we’re also not supposed to wash them off.
To me, those ashes are a mark and reminder, as deep and personal as jewelry or flowers. Those ashes show that we are loved, and that our beloved’s commitment to us is constant and true, even when we are not. They show that divine Love is not just about feelings or sentiments, but about death to everything that hinders it.
The ashes remind us that the heart of love is laying down one’s rights and one’s life for our beloved. When we first fall in love, we easily let go of things we held dear and thought we couldn’t live without, because we have found something greater. I’ve only been married for nine months, but I can already see how the human heart can snap right back into its worst habits and desires as relationships grow comfortable and familiar. Our beloveds don’t need candy or sentimental gestures. They need the passion and commitment that come from love’s first awakening.
It’s because of the tendency to forget our First Love – to rely on emotions and feelings instead of true sacrifice and commitment – that we need Ash Wednesday this Valentine’s Day. In Jesus, God puts aside everything to make us God’s beloved on the cross. This is not a sentimental gesture. It is a whole-hearted, full-throated commitment. Jesus is all in, and Lent is an invitation for us to join him.
For those who observe, may we be willing and able to say yes.
(Source: Juliet Vedral, Sojourners)
So the day comes around again
and we find ourselves surprised
by the truth
that we are mortal
The stuff of dust and ashes.
Our egos and esteem are held up
to the brutal mirror of the finite:
Know that you will end.
The world will continue without you.
And it’s only with our vision so narrowed
that we are again
able to see
all that lies beyond us:
Know that you are not God.
Know that all the things that make heaven and earth
reach way beyond you.
Live today with faith in your humanness
and let that lead you to life.
Welcome to Lent.
(Source: Cheryl Lawrie)
Dust is a good subject for reflection on Ash Wednesday, for dust, symbol of nothingness, can tell us a great deal. The prayer that accompanies the distribution of ashes comes from Genesis (3.19): ‘From the earth you were taken; dust you are and to dust you shall return.’ Dust is the symbol of coming to nothing: it has no content, no form, no shape; it blows away, the empty, indifferent, colourless, aimless, unstable booty of senseless change, to be found everywhere and at home nowhere. And scripture is right. We are dust. We are always in the process of dying. We are the only beings who know about this, know that we are bound for death, know that we are dust. Through our practical experience we come to realise that we are dust. Scripture tells us that we are like the grass in the field, like an empty puff of air. We are creatures of drifting perplexity. Despair is always threatening us and our optimism is a way of numbing bleak anxiety. Dust is what we are.
It is difficult for us to avoid hating ourselves. The reason why we cast our enemies down into the dust, tread them into dust, make them eat the dust, is because we are in despair about ourselves. What we cannot stand in others is what makes us despair about ourselves.
Dust has an inner relationship, if not an essential identity with the concept of ‘flesh’. Flesh certainly designates in the Old and New Testaments the whole human person. It designates us precisely in our basic otherness to God, in our frailty, our weakness, our separation from God, which is manifested in sin and death. The two assertions, ‘we are dust’ and ‘we are flesh’ are, then, more or less essentially similar assertions.
But the good news of salvation rings out: ‘The Word became flesh.’ God himself has strewn his own head with the dust of the earth. He has fallen on his face upon the earth, which with evil greed drank up his tears and his blood. We can say to God exactly what is said to us: ‘Remember that you are dust, and in death you shall return to dust.’ We can tell him what he told us in Paradise, because he has become what we are after Paradise. He has become flesh, flesh that suffers even unto death, transitory, fleeting, unstable, dust.
Ever since that moment, the sentence of terrifying judgement, ‘dust you are,’ is changed for people of faith and love. With the dust of the earth we trace on our foreheads the sign of the cross, so that what we are in reality can be made perceptible in a sign: people of death, people of redemption. ‘Dust you are’: the judgement still has a mysterious and shocking sense. The old sense is not abolished. But it descends with Christ into the dust of the earth, where it becomes an upward motion, an ascent above the highest heaven. ‘Remember that you are dust.’ In these words we are told everything that we are: nothingness that is filled with eternity; death that teems with life; futility that redeems; dust that is God’s life for ever.
(Source: Karl Rahner, from The Eternal Year, Burns & Oates, London, 1964)
Ash Wednesday reminds us that we are deeply part of God’s creation. We are made of dust, formed from the soil of the Earth. And like all mortal creatures we will one day return to dust. So we share a great kinship with all living things, and with all of creation. We are tied together both by the dirt we come from and the dust we will return to. May this spark in us a greater compassion and care for all of creation, today and all days. Amen.
Today is Ash Wednesday, the day that we remember we come from the earth and shall return to the earth. Everything is connected. We live as part of creation, not above or separate from it. It isn’t just about personal sin and death, but a reminder that our lives are linked in love as part of God’s joyful ecology of beginnings and endings.
(Source: Diana Butler Bass)
I’ve got ashes on my forehead and I’m trying hard to learn
This dust that I have started from is where I shall return.
(Source: Jonathan Rundman, ‘Ashes‘, from the album Sound Theology)
Wonderful Ash Wednesday sermon by Jennifer Henry here, posted on Ched Myers blogsite.
The practice of putting ashes on worshippers’ foreheads on Ash Wednesday is a symbol of cleansing. In ancient times when soap was yet to be invented, ashes were used to remove dirt. Thus, receiving these ashes on one’s forehead carries with it a firmed resolve to transform and remove the dirt from one’s soul.
(Source: Rev. Luna L. Dingayan)
God, we are marked with ashes,
symbols of repentant hearts
and contrite spirits.
We come to be made new,
to learn to love you with our
hearts and minds and spirits.
To learn to love our world
with compassion, and caring
Not denial and sacrifice,
but transformation and freedom.
Let us walk with Christ,
into the wilderness,
and seek to be changed.
Until we become worthy
of your eternal world
of peace and justice
(Source: Christine Sine, Godspace)
Blessing the Dust
All those days
you felt like dust,
as if all you had to do
was turn your face
toward the wind
and be scattered
to the four corners
or swept away
by the smallest breath
did you not know
what the Holy One
can do with dust?
This is the day
we freely say
we are scorched.
This is the hour
we are marked
by what has made it
through the burning.
This is the moment
we ask for the blessing
that lives within
the ancient ashes,
that makes its home
inside the soil of
this sacred earth.
So let us be marked
not for sorrow.
And let us be marked
not for shame.
Let us be marked
not for false humility
or for thinking
we are less
than we are
but for claiming
what God can do
within the dust,
within the dirt,
within the stuff
of which the world
and the stars that blaze
in our bones
and the galaxies that spiral
inside the smudge
(Source: Jan Richardson, from Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons)
Observance of Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of a time of introspection and turning back to our connection with the Sacred. Letting go of atonement theology allows us move the emphasis from our personal unworthiness to our personal sense of who we are. As Jung once wrote, “He who looks outside, dreams. He who looks inside, awakens.”
(Source: Ash Wednesday, Progressive Christianity)
Ash Wednesday is the day many Christians mark as the first day of Lent, the time of reflection and penitence leading up to Easter Sunday. Clergy all over the world dispense ashes, usually made by burning the palm fronds distributed on last year’s Palm Sunday, making the sign of the cross on the bowed foreheads before them. As they “impose” or “dispense” the ashes, the pastor or priest reminds each Christian of Genesis 3:19: “For dust you are and to dust you shall return.”
It isn’t intended to be a downer. It’s supposed to be a reminder that our lives are short and we must live them to the fullest. OK, maybe it’s a little bit of a downer — that verse from Genesis is what God said to Adam and Eve when he expelled them from the Garden of Eden for their sins. But there’s a big party the night before Ash Wednesday. That’s Mardi Gras, or “Fat Tuesday,” a secular observance that evolved out of “Shrove Tuesday,” the last hurrah – usually marked by eating of pancakes or other sinfully sweet foods – before the solemnity and penance of Lent set in.
Fun fact: Lent is actually longer than 40 days. There are 46 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter, but most churches don’t count the Sundays as part of Lent.
It used to be true that Catholics made up the lion’s share of people celebrating Ash Wednesday. But today, most “liturgical churches” — those with a regular, calendar-based liturgy, or set of rituals and observances — mark the day, including Methodists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Lutherans, and other Protestants.
There is no mention of Ash Wednesday in the Bible. But there is a tradition of donning ashes as a sign of penitence that predates Jesus. In the Old Testament, Job repents “in dust and ashes,” and there are other associations of ashes and repentance in Esther, Samuel, Isaiah and Jeremiah. By the 10th century, the monk Aelfric tied the practice, which dates to the eighth century, to the period before Easter, writing, “Now let us do this little at the beginning of our Lent that we strew ashes upon our heads to signify that we ought to repent of our sins during the Lenten fast.” By the 11th century, the practice was widespread throughout the church — until Martin Luther, the Protestant reformer, threw the practice out in the 16th century because it was not biblically based. There’s no Lent in the Bible, either, though many Christians see it as an imitation of the 40 days Jesus spent fasting and battling with Satan in the desert.
No one is required to keep the ashes on his or her face after the ritual. But some Christians choose to, perhaps as a reminder to themselves that they are mortal and fallible, while others may choose to leave them on as a witness to their faith in the hope others will ask about them and open a door to sharing their faith.
Just a thought……
In some monastic communities, monks go up to receive the ashes barefoot. Going barefoot is a joyous thing. It is good to feel the floor or the earth under your feet. It is good when the whole church is silent, filled with the hush of people walking without shoes. One wonders why we wear such things as shoes anyway. Prayer is so much more meaningful without them. It would be good to take them off in church all the time. But perhaps this might appear quixotic to those who have forgotten such elementary satisfactions. Someone might catch cold at the mere thought of it.
(Source: Thomas Merton)
Blessed are you, God of all creation,
Blessed are you, Christ one, Word and redemption,
You created everything, including our being.
It is written that we are formed from the dust of the earth.
And it is said that we are all made of star-stuff –
the ash of the Universe.
May we humbly listen anew to your call of grace.
As we journey to the cross,
May we receive these ashes,
May they be a sign for us;
An opening of a time of reflection,
As we think upon who we are and how we live;
At the start of the road towards Easter,
Breathe into us again the breath of life,
Mark us with your purpose,
That we might bear your light and love into the world.
As an anointing of blessing.
(source: Jon Humphries, on Prayers that Unite)
Dust to Dust
Great article here by Barbara Brown Taylor
“The gospel of the day is not about the poverty of flesh so much as it is about the holiness of ashes, which are worthy of all reverence. It was God who decided to breathe on them, after all, God who chose to bring them to life. We are certainly dust and to dust we shall return, but in the meantime our bodies are sources of deep revelation for us. They are how we come to know both great pain and great pleasure. They help us to recognize ourselves in one another. They are how God gets to us, at the most intimate and universal level of all”.
(Source: Barbara Brown Taylor. Read the full article here)
#LentDay1, Ash Wednesday: Matt 6:1-6, 16-21, Jesus and motives.
Welcome to the first day of Lent, often referred to as Ash Wednesday. It occurs exactly 46 days before Easter (40 fasting days not counting Sundays). Many Christian traditions throughout the world observe this day and this season. Ash Wednesday is named after the practice of placing ashes on the foreheads in the sign of the cross as a symbol of repentance from sins and reverence for the example set by Jesus.
Like any tradition it is easy to get caught up with the show of it, and the lure is to lose the true meaning behind it. How many people talk about what they’re giving up? Some make a big show about it, maybe even give daily Instagram updates of how pious they are.
Even in our good intentions, we face the temptation to want to have people look at us, to see how holy we are. Pride is a daily, sneaky animal who has many tricks.
Jesus is ever aware of this and he addresses this issue in today’s reading from Matthew, a traditional reading for Ash Wednesday. Here he names three ways that the Jews of his day practised their faith: through charitable giving, through prayer, and through fasting. He does not suggest that there is anything wrong with these practices. Far from it!
Each section begins with “Whenever you …” Jesus assumes that his hearers will give, and pray, and fast. He corrects not the actions themselves, but his followers’ motives for doing them.
This is why we are called into community, to help keep each other accountable, and to encourage each other along the journey. Remember this passage is in the wider context of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7) where Jesus teaches his disciples about an alternative way of living, following his Kingdom. This is in stark contrast to the ways of the selfie world, which is to draw attention to yourself at all costs.
Jesus here, as he often does, joins himself within the prophetic tradition by linking fasting with acts of social justice. They protest fasting when it is associated with injustice. Isaiah denounces fasting when it is accompanied by “serving your own interest…and oppress(ing) all your workers…to quarrel and to strike with a wicked fist.” (See Isaiah 58:2-10)
Such actions are consistent with what Jesus talks about later on in Matthew in the judgement scene (Matthew 25:31-46) – feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, housing the homeless etc.
As we enter into this Lenten period may we intentionally seek to draw closer to God. What keeps us at arm’s length from God? What are our temptations that draw us to focus on our self and not on our Creator? How do we, as in today’s passage, seek to give, pray and fast in a way that honors him, not just gets us more likes. And how do we seek to work for justice and not exploit those around us.
May we all encourage each other on this journey of Gods alternative way of living today, Amen.
(Source: Stephen Barrington on Advent and Lent Prayer Calendar)
greed, envy, worry,
doubt, brokenness, grief:
you take the juices
of our burnt out lives,
pouring them into
the Spirit, setting
the temperature on low
as you gently keep stirring,
you mix in the crumbs
from the Table,
adding a dash of
of the Cup’s nectar,
some sprigs of time,
a couple of hope leaves,
patiently waiting for
the sauce of
almost forgetting the place
where you stored them,
you take the palms you
had gathered up off the road
while the crowd scurried
on towards Calvary,
and with a pair of old scissors,
you slowly snip them up into
and when there is
plenty, you strike a match
and set them ablaze, your prayers rising
singing a love song, as the ashes
pile up and up, enough
to baptize us in humble
(Source: Thom M. Shuman, 2012)
The Star Within: An alternative Ash Wednesday ritual
The season of Lent calls us to journey along the edge, to anticipate that final trip to Jerusalem.
Lent call us to the cutting edge, when the wheat falls to the ground and new life comes forth.
Lent not only calls us to give up something, but also invites us to participate in the mystery of God-with-us.
By your grace, call us from grief into gladness, despair into hope, estrangement into right relations with each other and with earth.
The Lenten season is traditionally thought to be a time where we are reminded of Jesus’ life and death. It is a time of self-examination and penance. In many traditions it is a time when one thinks about what one can do without. You are being invited to begin this season of Lent in a new way, while maintaining the traditional themes.
We may begin by reflecting on our unity with all that is, by remembering that each of us is part of an immense and continuous creation, a creation which entails the entire universe. Although we humans are a vital part of this creation, we are by no means the center. Yet we know that all too often we imagine and act as if we were the center—as if everything were here for us, for us to use for our own purposes, even to use up.
And yet in our hearts we know that we live in and through a complex set of relationships, and that it is our responsibility, as it has been the responsibility of each generations that preceded ours, to bequeath a healthy, fruitful, and beautiful world to all who shall follow.
What does this understanding of connection and responsibility have to do with Lent?
–If we are open to allowing God to expose the places in our hearts that suffer from the illusion that we are separate and apart from creation,
–If we are willing to allow God to bring into the light those places where change is needed, THEN this is the real work of Lent. The real work of Lent is to renew our sense of connection, thus restoring our dignity and calling us back to our selves, to a place where we acknowledge the invitation to choose life and our responsibility to act co-creatively with God.
Divide the circle into three groups of readers for this reading on our cosmological origins.
Group 1: In the beginning, the energy of silence rested over an infinite horizon of pure nothingness.
Group 2: The silence lasted for billions of years, stretching across eons that the human mind cannot even remotely comprehend.
Groups 3: Out of the silence arose the first ripples of sound, vibrations of pure energy that ruptured the tranquil stillness as a single point of raw potential, bearing all matter, all dimension, all energy, and all time: exploding like a massive fireball.
All: It was the greatest explosion of all time!
Group 1: An eruption of infinite energy danced into being. It had a wild and joyful freedom about it, and like a dance it was richly endowed with coherence, elegance, and creativity.
Group 2: The universe continued to expand and cool until the first atoms came into being. The force of gravity joined the cosmic dance; atoms clustered into primordial galaxies.
Group 3: Giant clouds of hydrogen and helium gases gathered into condensed masses, giving birth to stars!
Group 1: Generations of stars were born and died, born and died, and then our own star system, the solar system, was formed from a huge cloud of interstellar dust, enriched by the gifts of all those ancestral stars.
Group 2: Planet Earth condensed out of a cloud that was rich in a diversity of elements. Each atom of carbon, oxygen, silicon, calcium, and sodium had been given during the explosive death of ancient stars. These elements, this stuff of stars, included all the chemical elements necessary for the evolution of carbon-based life.
Group 3: With the appearance of the first bacteria, the cosmic dance reached a more complex level of integration.
Group 1: Molecules clustered together to form living cells!
Group 2: Later came the algae, and then fishes began to inhabit the waters!
Group 3: Thence the journey of life on land and in the sky. Insects, amphibians, birds, reptiles, and mammals: all flourished and diversified and elaborated the themes of life. And now it is our time, too.
All: This is our story.
Group 1: The story of our beginning, our cosmology.
Group 2: Humans were invited to care for the earth…
Group 3: But often we tried to conquer and subdue it.
All: The burden is ours to own and bear.
Group 1: And so we will begin our Lenten Journey this Ash Wednesday.
Group 2: with an open heart asking the Creator
Group 3: to show us how to take the daily things of life and see them as sacred.
Group 1: May God guide us as we perform simple acts of love and prayer,
Group 2: and real works of reform and renewal.
Group 3: Let us love deeply the earth which gives us air to breathe, water to drink, and food to sustain us.
Group 1: May we remember that life is begotten from stardust, radiant in light and heat.
Group 2: We are all one – all of creation, all that now live, all that have ever lived.
Group 3: Remember we are stardust, and to stardust we return.
Group 1: Remember we are connected and to connection we return.
Group 2: Remember we are part of the great mystery.
All: Remember we are stardust and to stardust we return.
Ash Wednesday begins a journey of turning back toward God. It is a day when we look at how self-centered our lives have become, when we acknowledge that we often fall short of what we want to be. It is a day when we call all of our angers, hatred, and jealousies out from their dark corners and embrace them as part of us. Lent is also a season of healing. We open up our lives so that we may see into the depths of our souls. It is a time of confession. “Stardust” is not only a reminder of our need for forgiveness but also a reminder of our connection with earth and how we can be an instrument of healing.
Turn to the person next to you and place glitter on their foreheads, saying: Remember you are stardust, and to stardust you shall return.
Continue around the circle until all have received the stardust.
Receiving the Star: Place a star attached to a ribbon around the neck of the person next to you, saying: Remember you are a star and part of the Mystery.
(Taken from The Great Story, Plymouth Congregational Church)