It is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, a beautiful season of repentance and renewal.
Many of you will know that I draw inspiration from my daily life as a mother. Earlier in the week, my 6-year-old who sensed that Lent was soon approaching flopped on my bed and sighed, “Mum, can you help me think of what I can give up for Lent?” This was echoed by an enthusiastic “Yes, let’s think of what we can give up for Lent!” from my 8-year-old.
So the listing began…
From the 6-year-old: jellybeans, lolly snakes, Star Wars… and from the 8-year-old, with a mischievous smile: carrots, peas, beans, corn… (Quite obviously foods she’d rather go without, if she can avoid it!)
Knowing that my children have an inner determination to do what’s right, which consequence can be that they become frustrated when they’ve seemingly fallen short, I interrupted midway and said, “It is good of you to give something up for Lent, but may I suggest not to focus too much on the thing you’re giving up, and try instead, to see what good you can add. The purpose of Lent is to return to Jesus, in our minds, in our hearts and in our actions.”
How might we return to Jesus?
In the ashes, we remember that all begin from dust and to dust we all return. In The First Spiritual Exercises, Fr Michael Hansen SJ, offers the following for prayer as paraphrased:
- Immediately on waking, I rouse myself to joy by imagining that the new life I need is coming today. I ask for the grace to direct my whole self toward the Creator.
- I read the prayer texts below to consider the Lord’s creative action:
The hand of the LORD came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord GOD, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live…” So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them; but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds….” I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived… (Ezekiel 37: 1-5, 7-10)
We have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair. …We do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. (2 Corinthians 4:7-8, 16)
- What are the dry bones of my own life?
Perhaps these are “…the bones of a lost dream, a barren relationship, a past hurt, a crippling injustice, or a heart-space of brittle fragility.” (p. 90)
- What can we do in our lives to prophesy, to witness in God’s name, what God has commanded us?
- How does our prayer, alms-giving and fasting contribute, not to despair, but to renewal day by day?
- Do we believe we have and are treasure in clay jars?
For further reading
Hansen SJ, Michael. “Inner Peace in Darkness and Light (Tuesday: Re-Creation)” in The First Spiritual Exercises: Four Guided Retreats, Notre Dame, Indiana: Ave Maria Press, 90-91.
Felice, Margaret. 7 Ways to Observe Lent that Has Nothing to do with Candy from MargaretFelice.com (28 February 2014).