inside: how Ash Wednesday reminds us of God’s grace

inside - Ash Wednesday - smudge on forehead @poetryjoy.com

As I considered how to start this season of Lent, what struck me forcibly was the symbolism of Ash Wednesday, which is where we begin. Even though my home church doesn’t participate in Lenten practices, I see the value in them. A smudge of Palm Sunday’s ash pressed on the forehead is a visible and powerful reminder of why Jesus came to earth.

I’m truly grateful to have my sin largely concealed on the inside. It’s not always evident to those who know me or strangers who might come across me. Although much is revealed in our behaviour. Because our actions and words often speak for themselves. We can become adept at concealing our inner darkness, of course, but it’s a relief that the worst of us is known only to God. 😏

Safely tucked inside

What if God asked us to dare to wear
our sin, not like a hidden, dark, secret
stain within, but on the outside of us
instead, where it would be made visible
to all—would it bleed scarlet-red?

Or might we resemble bodily black-rimmed
coal miners, with thick, choking clouds of
dust ingrained deep into their skin, which
won’t wash off under the tap, rather
like an indelible tattoo, perhaps?

Or splattered in splotches, like scars,
as if we were pigs rolling around in mud,
up to our ears and all. Or battered, brawny
rugby players after a match, before we
went for our cleansing hot bath.

Maybe it’s better how it is now,
with a mere smudge gracing our
foreheads, and all the rest safely
tucked inside our souls, where we
keep the dross God only knows.
©joylenton

inside - safely tucked inside poem excerpt - coal miners (C)joylenton @poetryjoy.com

We can delude ourselves into thinking we are better than we are. Or we can become deceived into believing nothing good resides within at all. The truth is a mixture of them both. Left to our own devices, we are fallen and lost. But God… picks us up, heals, redeems and restores our souls, calls us His precious Beloved and makes His home in our hearts.

That’s what Easter is all about. A Divine exchange takes place. Our filthy rags for His royal robe of righteousness. Our sin for His grace. Our pain for His peace. Our tears for His oil of joy. God excels in bringing beauty out of ashes. He isn’t fazed by our brokenness because He alone can piece us back together. God’s holy glue makes us better than before, with a gradual sanctification process as we surrender our lives to Him.

“To all who mourn in Israel he will give: beauty for ashes; joy instead of mourning; praise instead of heaviness. For God has planted them like strong and graceful oaks for his own glory.” – Isaiah 61:3 TLB

awakening: experiencing a fresh awakening to joy during Lent

awakening-to-joy-during-lent-poetry-joy

 

I don’t know about you but I could use a fresh infusion of joy right now. Life has a way of grinding us down low to ground and leaching joy right out of our hearts. So how do we go about receiving a fresh awakening to joy in a season where we feel weak, weary or discouraged?

My faith points the Way to discovering all Hope and Joy in Jesus, because the best way to climb out of a pit of pain and despair is to recognise Christ’s constant presence with us, (yes, even, and especially, as we sit in dust and ashes, feeling low or lost) and His hand always reaching down to save us.

God never leaves us to our own devices. In fact, through Christ, He has paved the way to draw us joyfully back to His Father-heart, a way which this season of Lent makes clear and evident.

And we soon discover how the path to the cross is strewn with challenge and pain before the great release from the tomb and celebration of the resurrection Hope Christ gives us. In recognition of this, I’m praying for God to give you and me a fresh awakening to joy during our own times of sorrow and sadness, shame and pain.

My friend, I can’t pretend to know what you are going through, what keeps you awake at night or makes your heart quail, but I can offer a virtual hand to hold, a shoulder to lean on, a friend to confide in if you need one, and my prayers for you during this season of Lent.

May we learn to come alive again on the inside as we place our faith and trust in God. May we have a fresh awakening to His loving presence and begin to find joy creeping back into our hearts again. Each week during Lent I intend to offer a poetic response and a few words of hope and encouragement. I hope you will join me. Here’s the first offering about Ash Wednesday.

A fresh awakening

a-fresh-awakening-ash-wednesday-pj

 

We kneel with last Palm Sunday’s

burnt palms arising as ashes, smudged

on foreheads; and we receive a fresh

awakening to Life Himself in our own

dying to self

These days of denying and fasting and focusing

on death will become precursor to rising

in newness of life—like grains of fallen wheat

our souls become broken, crushed, before

being made whole

And hearts honed in humility will soon

see an uplifting as we draw closer 

to accepting our own mini-Calvary

We’ll witness our dross nailed firm

to Christ’s cross

This season unveils the very reason

for his Incarnation—makes manifest

the Man of Sorrows made flesh and

tears at our own hearts of stone, now

weeping like his

©joylenton2017

a-fresh-awakening-poem-excerpt-poetry-joy

Preparation for fasting and feasting

ash berries - life PJ

I belong to a faith tradition that makes no specific preparation for Lent within its practices.

It’s a relatively new thing for me to take note of Lent and consider how to prepare my heart for the journey.

And I’ve come to realise I cannot fully undertake it without surrender, intention and deliberation.

Life itself invites us into a gentle awareness of days and seasons of the heart, an opening to the sacred within the secular.

As nights draw in and days become dark and cold, we may gather dead, dry and dying plants together to make a bonfire. From the embers grey ash rises, ripe for garden mulch.

Ash is precursor to new life, new growth. A potent symbol of the dying and rising we experience within.

Likewise, Lent provides opportunity to sift out dead wood we’ve unwittingly gathered over time, consign it to death and seek the restoration and renewal God offers us through a transformed mind and heart.

Ash Wednesday

Absent from this temple

is smudge and ash of grey

reminder of and reason

why our Saviour came

But deep within this heart

remains a cloak of black

as sin still crouches there

ready to ensnare, attack

Deeper still within this soul

shines a Light without limit

where God’s Love resides

bringing wholeness to my spirit

And as I journey forth

leaning closer into Lent

my value and my worth

become ever heaven-sent

©JoyLenton2016

You can’t get a better companion to walk you through Lent and into Holy Week than Malcolm Guite as he invites us to become immersed in poetic reflection with ‘Word in the Wilderness’.

I’ve also downloaded a pdf file: ‘Hungering for Life – Creative Exercises for Lent’ compiled by Christine Sine, with Jean Andrianoff. Here, contrary to the usual emphasis on fasting, we are being asked to consider what we are hungering for during Lent.

You can find myriad resources for Lent on the Godspace blog, including prayers, ways of celebrating with children, musical and creative resources. Click here to discover them. Ignatian Spirituality also has 10 great ideas for Lent here.

This preparation will hopefully lead to deeper reflection on new life rising from death rather than focussing most on loss and death itself.

The words below speak into our need to focus on the positive. They came from ‘Morning, Noon and Night – Poems and Prayers’ and can be found in various forms in Lenten reflections. I’d love to hear how you prepare for Lent and make space for Easter.

“Fast from criticism, and feast on praise.

Fast from self-pity, and feast on joy.

Fast from ill-temper, and feast on peace.

Fast from resentment, and feast on contentment.

Fast from jealousy, and feast on love.

Fast from pride, and feast on humility.

Fast from selfishness, and feast on service.

Fast from fear, and feast on faith.” 

ash fast and feast - PJ