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Fish Fry Season (This Article’s about Lent)

03/07/2011

I grew up Catholic, and my practice of Ash Wednesday always marked the beginning of fish fry season— and so I permitted the priest to mark my forehead with ashes and then went to school, wearing a sign to my friends that I wouldn’t be participating in “Pizza Fridays” in the cafeteria.

Then, later in life, Ash Wednesday became the day to mark the beginning of Lent (which it is) and it’s always been something I thought I had to deal with, another day to observe before the real work of Lent started.

I realized, of course, my old interpretation of Ash Wednesday was wrong and that the purpose is to prepare our hearts for a season of prayer and fasting with a day of repentance. But it’s only been the last few years that I’ve recognized the beauty of Ash Wednesday.

This year, I am particularly moved and challenged by two thoughts.

The first? I need to repent. I need to remember the ways that I’ve caused hurt in relationships both with friends and family and with God. But more so, I need to remember, as Job does at the end of 42 chapters of going head to head with God in faithfulness and fury, that God’s mercy and grace and goodness pours over every area of my life. Job says: “My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes (Job 42:5-6).” Like Job, I have missed something.

The ashes on my head force me to uncover the ugliness of my heart, as I imagine they did for Job, too. They force me to be open and empty at the foot of the cross, where I come to receive the prodigious gift of God’s grace that I receive everyday, but perhaps especially on Easter Sunday when I am invited to join the chorus of “He is Risen, Indeed!”

My second thought on Ash Wednesday is that receiving ashes is not something we do alone— but is instead an act of rich communion with fellow believers. Of course, we go forward as individuals, each seeking our own reminder of the day. But then, we spend the day (or even the hour) together— set apart as God’s children. And it’s in this time, that I believe God does some of his greatest work binding together his church and preparing us to meditate on the cross, and on Jesus who overcame the grave so that he might give us Life.

How will you mark Ash Wednesday, and the beginning of Lent this year?

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