I love Ash Wednesday.
That’s a strange sentiment to hold about an observance that highlights our mortality and that begins a season of penitence and self-denial. Burning palm leaves, mixing the ashes with oil, placing them on tender and fragile skin in the shape of a cross is one of the most holy and moving rituals the church gives to us. We cannot deny our unity when we make the sign of the cross on a forehead of a one-year-old and a 90-year-old with the same words, “From dust you have come and to dust you shall return. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”
With those simple words, we launch ourselves in the season of Lent, when we are invited through prayer, fasting and self-denial to turn our hearts to God and draw closer to the Divine.
But I wonder, if perhaps this Lent, we can draw closer to God with feasting that celebrates God’s presence already with us instead of fasting from our routine activities or indulgences? What if this Lenten season, we can embrace practices of celebration, awareness and joy that will uncover the positions of shame, separation and scarcity (all words that describe sin) that we often approach God with.
For on Ash Wednesday, a day set aside for fasting, I experienced gift after gift after gift – a feast of interactions that drew me close to God.
A queer woman who drove 30 minutes out of her way and said, “I had to come here to the only place I could trust to give me ashes.”
An unexpected prayer time with three school district leaders who needed to be together, to stop in the midst of their day, and place their families and their students into God’s care.
The excitement of a person new to this whole church thing who just purchased a new Bible and started to read it.
The delight of a two-year-old who came not once but twice to receive ashes, who felt them on his own forehead and knew in the way only toddlers can that he was safe and loved.
This year, more than ever, I believe Lent can be a time for feasting, not just fasting. For Lent is a time for us to remember that we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. We are separated from God because of our actions and our inactions. But for many of us, recognizing our separation from God comes not through the taking away of things (food, social media, chocolate, soda,) but instead through the presence of things.
So what if this Lent we chose not to deprive ourselves but instead to surround ourselves – with beauty in nature, with unexpected conversations, with interactions with people much different than us, with a new book of poetry that offers language for the mystery of God? What if this Lent, we didn’t starve ourselves or deny ourselves but instead indulged ourselves – with meals around a table with new friends, with rallies and organizing meetings to bring justice and wholeness to those suffering, with moments to simply sit in silence and encounter God in a new way. What if we chose to feast this Lent – to be creative, beautiful, inclusive, authentic and vulnerable – and in doing so to discover a new presence, a new hope, a new wholeness, a new experience of God through Jesus Christ?
This Lent, I invite you to a journey of your own. A journey to encounter God in new ways, a journey to indulge in divine love, a journey to remember our unity – from dust we have come and to dust we shall return. A journey that culminates in feasting in God’s eternal love.