Just like millions of other Catholics on Ash Wednesday I'll be heading to mass to get my ashes. Ash Wednesday serves as a call to mass for the blessing and imposition of ashes. It's a gateway from the old to the new, party season of Mardi Gras to the prayer season of Lent and the imposition of ashes serve to all who see them, that we are Catholics who for 40 days will "Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel". The Church has been doing this practice for over two-thousand years and every year I will have some woman typically lean in and whisper "excuse me, did you know that you've got dirt on your forehead?" So this year I thought I'd write a blog about it in the hopes of educating people about this awesome spiritual experience.
The video above comes from "Busted Halo" a Catholic organization that has created a series of awesome 2 minute videos to explain practices of the church to others and can be found on their You Tube Channel.
For many of you in the marketing and branding industry you might think well if we did a better job as a Church of explaining our practices to the larger culture then people wouldn't misunderstand. Some people get it I mean McDonald's figured out how to monetize the season with special deals on the fillet of fish for #meatlessfridays during the Fridays of Lent and do pretty well. Others assume that the Lenten Season has to do with giving up something, predominantly chocolate for women. Still others are reminded of the little Rice Bowl projects that some of their Catholic kid friends participate in.
But, guess what while the practice of wearing ashes is a long standing tradition of the Catholic Church it is not the only denomination that practices the tradition. Many other Christian based faith communities practice it as well. Why is that important? Well it should help us all to focus on the true meaning of what Ash Wednesday and Lent can mean for all of us.
The true meaning of the season is truly about reflecting on how you can make changes in yourself, your community and your relationship with God working in and through you. As I've grown older the meaning of this season has changed for me. From saving my candy money as a little girl to give to the poor, to actually designing a prayerful plan through the season as an adult. Nearly twenty years ago my sister went to work and was told to wash her ashes off her forehead before she started her shift as a rental car company bus driver. She called me and asked me what she should do? I told her that was a violation of her personal rights and to call human resources. A long story short she won that battle in court!
Her experience shifted my thinking that wearing those ashes all day, at work and even sleeping in them was a right, privilege and evangelization tool of my faith. We've heard that we cultivate habits by doing something consecutively for 20 days, so imagine when you double the time the habit becomes an involuntary response or habitual practice.
Now you're interested right? Before you design a path for your Lenten journey ask yourself three questions:
Who can you lift up in prayer? We live in a world where there is so much conflict, poverty and unrest abroad and within our own families. Prayer is so powerful and such an anonymous gift. Make a list of people who need your prayers and there should be a couple of people that you don't like or disagree with on it too. Ask God to help them with (you fill in the blank) and ask God to give you the words or actions that will breed a positive outcome. I've prayed for some things for decades and when the answer is revealed to me it pierces my soul with a peace that envelopes me. My whole life I wanted my Dad to say "I am so proud of you". Months before he died when all my prayer was focused on his healing he just out of the blue said "Sherry, have I ever told you how proud I am of the woman that you've become" and I immediately felt the heat, tears and peace of having my prayer answered. I said tearfully "no" and he said I'm sorry the way I was raised you didn't do that. Prayer is so powerful!
What should you give up? Remember the season is about changes in yourself, your community and your relationship with God. So if you give up watching television what will you do with that time? Replace it with opportunities to change, grow or cultivate something. So if you give up chocolate or Starbucks how does it make long lasting change when as soon as the 40 days have passed you go back to it? If you are a chocoholic and have the habit of reaching for it in times of stress or something, turn to a prayer or meditation app to help you turn inward instead. If you give up Starbucks track all the money that you save and give it to an organization, the poor or buy something that sparks change in you and benefits the world. Clearly Starbucks gives a lot to charities so you are contributing in a way so don't give that up and give up something else more impactful.
How can you take up another's cross to help change the world? Carrying a cross is symbolic in the Christian faith of how Jesus bore the weight of the sin for all of us. Certainly, we are not called to bear that kind of weight! We can bear the weight of some. For forty days design a way that you can share your time, talent or treasure to help someone hurting in our world community every day of Lent. That can be as simple as Googling causes that are near and dear to your heart and making a donation. I know you are thinking - done! I'll go to some causes website and send them $40 as a donation for the Lenten Season. No! The goal is to reflect everyday on the crosses that many bear in our family, church family, community, and world. By doing something everyday you cultivate a habit of helping others as a part of your consciousness going forward. There is a woman who is caring for her husband who is dealing with dementia. I remember him being an active member of our parish and now she has to wrangle him like a child. One day I went up to her to tell her she is an inspiration to me and if my husband or family members suffers the same fate I will remember how patient and kind she was and mirror that behavior. She teared up and said "thank you".
Enjoy your Mardi Gras day and I wish you a wonderful Lenten Season ahead