Today is, for many of us, Ash Wednesday. Depending on your particular tradition, it might mean anything from the day to recover from Mardi Gras, to a day of fasting (Possibly following Shrove Tuesday pancakes last night!) to solemn church services, marked with something I wouldn’t personally have named imposition of ashes on the first day of the Lenten season.
Frankly, these were not traditions I was raised with in what used to be the old Southern Presbyterian Church. And, for many years, now, Ash Wednesday has reminded me of sugar bowls.
I can see the question marks sprouting over your head! It happened like this.
There I was, in the first church I served, in a tiny southern town, when Ash Wednesday rolled around for the first time. My immediate question had to do with where the ashes came from. Historically, the answer is that they come from the palm fronds from the prior year’s Palm Sunday service which were carefully saved, dried, and burned to make, well, ashes.
All interesting in theory, but what if your current church hadn’t observed Palm Sunday last year???
Answer: a sandwich bag full of ashes from the fireplace of my colleague in ministry who served the “big” church up town.
Next problem: What to put the ashes in for the service?
For this I turned to the source of all liturgical answers, the Cokesbury catalog. There the answer was something called an ash pyx which they were oh, so happy to sell me and deliver.
You guessed it. Lots of money! And a glimmer of inspiration. You see, the ash pyx in the catalog looked surprisingly like the silver plated sugar bowl in a tea set I won once upon a time at a dog show.
Problem solved! Somehow, we made it through the service and all the “Why?” questions that went with it.
Frankly, I still have a few “Why?” questions about the season of Lent which involves the weeks prior to Easter.
The oldest traditions are all about sacrifice and denial. Put most simply, one gives something up during Lent as a remembrance of the sacrifice Jesus made.
Lately, though, I’ve come to think of Lent as a time to add something to life. Something that allows us to live more fully in love and joy, which is, I suspect, more what Jesus had in mind.
One of my favorite examples came to me in the words of the wildly wondrous artist and author, Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy, known to many, many of us as SARK, who talks about radical self care.
The details of such a spirit of care would, undoubtedly, be different for each of us. I began today with a bunch of fasting (!) lab work and a curious procedure known as a ginger compress designed to encourage my adrenal glands to do their jobs a bit better.
And, no, they didn’t cover that when I was in nursing school!
Depending on your tradition and how you learned to count such things, there are 39 more days of Lent, plus Sundays, which are designated Feast Days.
My plan, as you probably guessed, is, indeed, radical self care. (Thanks, Susan!)
More attention to rest. A firm intention to paint every day. Really! Even knowing that some of those days will probably be 3 prayer dots. Creating. And healing food.
Some of it really good chocolate. And the chicken, sustainably raised on local pastures, who followed me home from Pine Street Market.
This coming Friday has been designated roast chicken night at our house. (I’ll admit to designs on a big pot of broth to follow!)
And, just in case radical self care sounds like a plan to you, I’d love to hear how it goes. For starters, click here for my perfect roast chicken recipe. (It’s kind of got a Lent thing going for it!)
Enjoy! (More about the photo as my workshop, Holy Polka Dots, comes to life. Teaser… Anne Lamott will be involved!)