Yesterday was Ash Wednesday the start of Lent. It’s a season in the Christian calendar I always look forward to, but often one when I feel like I didn’t quite arrive where I’d hoped. This year, I was fortunate enough to spend the whole of Ash Wednesday morning in quiet contemplation and prayer with friends, as well as sharing in the ashing ritual where we made the sign of the cross on each others foreheads, a ritual that links us with centuries of previous Christian witness, cleansing and prayer.
The cross is of course for forgiveness, but also to call once more to repentance; an acknowledgement that both individually and collectively we do things that are wrong, that we fall short of a perfected humanity, and the need for us to recognise these things in order that we might move on. The ash further reminds us of our own mortality, “Remember ..” say the words of the liturgy “…you are dust and to dust you will return.”
As in the past, alongside the “giving up” of sweets, cakes and other indulgencies for the season, I’ve also made two other committments this Lent:
- To try and revitalise my prayer life (which if I’m honest has become somewhat lazy)
- To genuinely offer a repentant heart before God (to search out my own faults and shortcomings, and allow God to effect changes in me)
One of my key scriptural sources at times when I’m looking for a focus for my prayer and reflections I turn to the Psalms, and it was there that I started again yesterday. I particularly focussed on Psalm 51, a psalm all about repentance and forgiveness:
1. Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!
3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.
5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me.
6 Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.
7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.
13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.
14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
15 O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
18 Do good to Zion in your good pleasure;
build up the walls of Jerusalem;
19 then will you delight in right sacrifices,
in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.
As the morning progressed, and I moved into deeper reflection and meditation upon this psalm and others, I wrote these words, which I share with you all now:
all the hurt and the hate,
all the fear and the greed,
all the racism and misogyny,
can we find the Way?
all the fake news and fake smiles,
all the dreams and the nightmares,
all the sales pitches and political spin,
can we find the Truth?
all the dark times and dark places,
all the turned off hearts and switched off minds,
all the snuffed out hopes and blown out dreams,
can we find the Light?
Lent is that time to go deeper, to face the reality of our own lives and existence, our own faults and failings, time to ask the big questions of ourselves, our generation, and of God. It’s a time to journey into the wilderness where (if we are fortunate) we may hear a still, small voice that helps us make a lttle more sense of it all.