ASH Wednesday, 18 February, marks the beginning of Lent. Traditionally, Lent brings with it a time of cutting back, which includes fasting and alms-giving.
Lent in the Northern Hemisphere coincides with the season of spring. These are hope-filled days offering an invitation to enjoy brighter mornings and longer evenings. This is a time when the colour and fragrance of new life suggests to us “all will be well”.
Lent is a time to prepare over 40 days for the joyful celebration of Easter. Traditional Lenten practices such as fasting and penance can only find a purpose when, at a personal level, we receive the gifts of hope and renewal. This is what Lent is all about.
Each year, Lent provides an opportunity for each one of us to experience a sense of healing and to embrace a real opportunity to begin again. I was greatly taken recently by the tragic deaths of people whose lives ended by suicide. In ministry, so many have shared with me the dreadful reality of living with depression and mental illness. Losing hope and an appetite to live is both a painful and a frightening reality. While there is no magic wand or instant quick fix to the why of human suffering, openness to the spiritual life can offer healing and, indeed, hope.
Recently, we celebrated World Day of the Sick. The blessing of oil on the palms of those who gathered in our church took place. I was greatly taken by the various shapes and sizes and unique sense of every palm.
There is an innate goodness within us all that our God wants to awaken and celebrate. The season of Lent rightly brings with it the new spring – a time when we are uplifted by early mornings and brighter evenings.
There is a crisis of hope, a desperate need for renewal in so many structures and institutions within our society. But perhaps the greatest challenge is for our own lives to be renewed. In her wisdom, Mother Theresa once remarked: “The only life we are capable of changing is our own.”
The story of Cinderella speaks volumes, again regarding the season of Lent. This is a centuries-old wisdom tale that speaks about the value of ashes. The name itself already says most of it. Literally, it means “the young girl who sits in the cinders”. Moreover, as the tale makes plain, before the glass slipper is placed on her foot, before the beautiful gown, ball, dance and marriage, there must first be a period of being humbled. In the story of Cinderella there is a theology of Lent. Often, before we get the chance to put on the ‘glass slipper’, we first have to wear the heavy boots of burden and, indeed, mountain climbing.
The good news of the Lenten story is that our God actively wants to heal each one of us. Life is worth living. Life is a wonderful gift, especially when we are fuelled by confidence and renewed hope. The spirit of healing taps into this deep well of wisdom when it puts ashes on our foreheads at the beginning of Lent.
Lent is a season for each of us to sit in the ashes, waiting while some silent growth takes place within us, and simply being still so the ashes can do their work in us.