As you may know, Mardi Gras is over and today is Ash Wednesday for the Christian Church across the world, signaling the beginning of the season of Lent. I thought I would take some time to share with you how the entrance to this season of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving relates to my personal passion as a liberal.
First, a bit of history.
According to the entry over at AmericanCatholic.org, the use of ashes dates back to the earliest recorded histories of Christianity.
Thomas Talley, an expert on the history of the liturgical year, says that the first clearly datable liturgy for Ash Wednesday that provides for sprinkling ashes is in the Romano-Germanic pontifical of 960.It is a ritual that was clearly inherited from our Judaic roots. The books of the prophets depict numerous references to the use of ashes and sackcloth as signs of repentance and atonement. It is a cycle that is mirrored with fasting in other traditions, such as the Muslim season of Ramadan. It is the outward expression of the people to re-center their priorities as they relate to the outward expressions of their faith.
Focusing on the Christian aspect to all of this, since it is my personal journey, I can tell you that these words of Jesus are what I focus on when I start to feel like I've moved off the beaten path of my faith:
- For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.
- Then the righteous will answer him and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?'
- And the king will say to them in reply, 'Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.' -- Matthew 25:35-40
One of the images I use during this season of introspection is the labyrinth, specifically this design:
It is a replica of the labyrinth at the cathedral in Chartres, France that is laid in stone in the sanctuary of the chapel. The difference between a labyrinth and maze is that a labyrinth has only one pathway and doesn't feature wrong decisions or dead-ends. This particular design begins at the bottom-center and the path winds its way through the four quadrants till it reaches the center.
My passion as a liberal is best expressed when I am true to my center. I am most alive when I reach out to others in tolerance and respect. My soul and spirit are most inflamed (in a good way) when I am fighting for those who are victims of injustices. That is why I have such a strong reaction to real and perceived threats to the marginalized.
The past few days have been very difficult for me as I've wrestled with the various emotions that I've allowed to consume me. I'm extremely glad that Lent has arrived, because it forces me to do some inner-searching for peace and listening to my heart. How can I expect to bring peace to the world, when I don't have it fully within me? That is the question that I will be pondering when I receive the ashes on my forehead today, as well as the journey for the next 40ish days.
I hope the outcome for me will mirror that of the Phoenix. That I will be able to sing its song of passion and renewal to the world, rising out of the ashes and signaling growth and new life.
Namaste - I bow to the spirit within you