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. ūüėŹ

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‚ÄĒwould 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

dust: our origins and state are redeemed by God’s grace

 

We may have entered Lent with dust ashes symbolically smudged on our foreheads, revealing we are dusty people in desperate need of a Saviour. God’s Light penetrates to show us the way to live and love with the freedom and compassion only He can bring. Our dust mote souls dance in its radiance.

Thankfully, Jesus didn’t come to wag a finger and point out our flaws, faults and failings. He already knows them all too well. The human heart is no mystery to Him. He came to rescue lost souls. To restore us back to the Father. To make us His own brothers and sisters by faith. To declare we are not forgotten but are deeply loved.

We may have begun our journey in a heavy-hearted way because the road to Calvary is always paved with pain. We each carry our own cross, often without realising it. But there is anticipation of joy to come.

There is cause for celebration. There’s a brighter future at stake and awe and wonder await all who come carefully and prayerfully, with growing awareness of why Jesus came to earth. Skies may darken soon but our souls grow lighter with every step.

Because we know our Redeemer lives. He has ransomed us from Satan’s clutches. He has set us free from sin‚Äôs steely grip. He has given us a new heart. A fresh start. Hope for today and into eternity. Love that will not let us go. Love that has paid the price so that God’s sons and daughters can live in close relationship with Him.

We remember we are people of the Cross, pilgrims on a pathway of faith and sojourners on earth, with our feet rooted in dust, in daily toil and concerns, but with our hearts set on an eternal purpose. It’s one we can scarcely fathom, though the mystery is an essential part of the journey itself.

 

We become changed from the inside out. Renewed, with an altered perspective and heart and an awakened desire to be who God always intended us to be: the best version of ourselves. Though we came from dust, we are destined for a glorious eternity with God.

Being dust

We begin as dust and ashes, red-based Adamic clay, ready
to be shaped and moulded by unseen hands, waiting
on breath of Life to blow as holy wind, naming
our earthen vessel souls as Man

We remain fragile, easily cracked and broken, full
of holes, etched with crevices, edged hard, made
soft with grace, gritty from frequent handling, soiled
yet bearing our Master’s hallmark

We are God’s handiwork, his creative vision, expressed
in tents of flesh‚ÄĒprone to wounds, rips and tears, weak
as water‚ÄĒwe think we’re strong and capable
but only when he makes us so
©joylenton

 

shine: how we can shine like water to the thirsty

 

When we read about the way Jesus was crushed for our sin, made weak for our sake, bled freely from myriad wounds, suffered a thorn-pierced brow and died an agonising death nailed to a cross, do you ever wonder just what that has to do with you and me? My answer is: Everything.

Because the incarnation of Christ reveals just how much God identifies with all of us in our broken human condition. Jesus’ sacrificial death holds huge significance for mankind. While taking human flesh and living like one of us,¬†He was, is and ever more shall be the One and only Son of God.

Death could not hold Him captive.¬† He arose from the grave in resurrection glory. Made heroes out of fearful disciples. Our history shifted to become His Story. During this¬†season of Lent, God’s Holy Light can seem shielded at first, dimmed by the dark stain of our sin, not quite ready to shine in full wattage until we reach the end of the Easter story and Christ’s glorious resurrection to come.

But for those¬† of us who live in the here and now reality of the resurrection with our faith rooted in Jesus and our lives as living testimony, whether we’re aware of it or not,¬†a constant glow of grace lights up our hearts and floods our thirsty souls like the¬† ever-flowing Living Water it actually is.

Shine like water

The Rock must be crushed
and spring red life, like rust
beneath an enormous forest
Let it blow cool purple
and light of I AM will
shine like water in us all
© joylenton

 

Jesus shines on in our hearts, radiating out of our broken cracks and crevices, leaking His love to the world at large.¬†The fruit of Christ’s sacrifice is eternal life, hope, joy and peace, as grace gifts given to us when Holy Spirit takes up residence in our hearts. They are gifts we get to savour here and now and enjoy to the full in the life to come.

Deep-seeded peace

Our intuition has grown
fertile-fresh, sweet and greener
from the fruit of happy peace
breathing sanctuary to nature
through quiet night murmurs
of secret breeze rustle song, as
long and deep as seed would be
© joylenton

love: Christ bears infinite love and grace on a cross

 

We’re at the point of no return on our Lenten journey. A Holy happening is imminent. The day we call Good Friday has arrived. God’s eternal, infinite, unconditional Love is hanging on a cross, made a public spectacle and disgrace for us.

Jesus is marred, pierced, blood-stained and, briefly, just beyond His Father’s reach. The day has dawned when sin meets Saviour, mankind meets its Maker, and our guilt, shame and pain are nailed to a cross of wood, held in place by Love alone, His amazing grace about to be made known.

We can only watch and wonder, our minds unable to fully fathom or clearly comprehend what we see. Our Holy God poured out for you and me….

Bearing infinite love

Jesus, you see faces, look into souls, hear the heartbeat

of every person on the street. You don’t see a faceless throng

pressing together like a swarming sea of anonymity

Even those who barely give you a glance, and those who

sneer, swear or spit as you carry your cross, filled with

venom, hate, while you bear only infinite love and grace

 

How can it be that you bear them no grudge, not even

an ounce of animosity, your heart contracted in love

laced with waves of pity? Yet you know it is their sin

pinning you to a cross, their rage ripping your back

to shreds, their nameless hate nailing your helpless

hands as you reach out, surrendered to your fate

 

And as blood pours from your many wounds, you are

wounded more by the unaccustomed distance, a cloud

between you and your Father, as he has to turn his face

away from his sin-bearing Son, leaving you alone

for the first time‚ÄĒyou feel distant and lost‚ÄĒas you

hang limp, wretched, almost ready to give up the ghost

 

Finally, the darkness steals into your soul, making you writhe

within, and you know it won’t be long before you cry

it is finished, and mankind’s release has been secured

by your poured out blood. You gasp out your holy sigh and

rest in death’s embrace for a while‚ÄĒas skies darken and a

curtain is rent to signal the start of a new, living covenant

©joylenton2017

“Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed” ~ Isaiah 53:4-5

wonder: maintaining a child-like sense of wonder

 

We begin, malleable as clay, newly minted, a wonder to behold. Childhood offers us an enviable openness and innocence that can quickly turn sour, depending on how our way of seeing things is perceived and responded to by our parents and carers.

I was a daydreaming child, prone to wondering (and wandering away). My impatient mother was apt to sigh, snap and tut at her head-in-the-clouds girl. I lived with eyes wide open, heart and mind engaged in a life beyond what adult eyes could see, lost in my own world, where anything was possible.

Dolls were real to me, so I cried when my sister carelessly tossed them down the stairs. They were my playmates, always firm friends, unlike my chameleon twin sister who blew hot and cold with the wind. Competitiveness took the edge off our companionship. Parents who constantly compared us‚ÄĒproverbial chalk and cheese in our character and interests‚ÄĒwere of little help in fostering good relationship between us, or igniting wonder we could easily share.

Books soon became my escape route, a convenient hide-away when life became painful, a continual source of wonder and consolation to this day. Here’s the thing: God never meant us to lose our sense of wonder. That’s not what putting childish things behind us is supposed to mean. Child-like wonder is a precious gift we do well to maintain.

We are hard-wired for wonder, made to marvel and created to see and sense the holy beauty and joy that surrounds us each day. Sadly, our hearts can become hard, cynical and cold. We can fail to see that faith is the greatest wonder journey of them all.

I hope and pray the haiku below will help bring back a sense of awe to you during this Holy Week. May God soften and enliven our hearts, open our eyes, saturate us with His joy, fill us with fervent faith and an increasing ability to rejoice and to praise. Maybe then we will be better equipped to live a wonder-filled life.

Tuned to wonder

My heart is wired, tuned

to see wonder in each day

fired by what I spy

©joylenton2017

 

Daily marvel

We wonder, marvel

anew at all God can do

spy his handiwork

©joylenton2017

 

Risen‚ÄĒHoly wonder

Eyes are spying now

transfixed‚ÄĒseeing Jesus’ tomb

wondrously empty

©joylenton2017

 

Linking my haiku micropoetry with¬† our Poet Master, Ronovan,¬†and fellow poets, as we share our take on this week’s prompt of ‘Wonder&Spy’. Just click here to join me there and read the great posts being shared.

How are you awakening to wonder as we walk this Lenten pathway? I’d love to hear in the comments below. ¬†ūüôā

spring issues us with a reminder to come alive on the inside

 

Springtime makes our souls come alive on the inside, unfurling like flowers to sun’s warmth.¬†It helps to fuel the creative, poetic flame and encourages us to look for the light at the edges of everything.

We’re more willing to believe in resurrection when we witness it in earth’s cycles, in new life springing up before us. Somehow, such visible signs help to point us in a more positive direction, nudge us out of our former complacency and ready us for change.

These weeks of walking toward Easter can feel long, lifeless, depleted and dark, if we focus most on our loss, the giving up and denial inherent in this season, and as ¬†we anticipate Christ’s needful work on the cross.

We can tend to forget to rejoice in the small signs of wonder unfolding before us, those seemingly tiny glimpses of grace we experience each day. Yet they lead to the greatest rejoicing of all on Resurrection Sunday, and are intended to bring us joy in the here and now.

Inspiration can come from many quarters, including enjoying a world waking up from winter dormancy and God breathing new life into us each day. I am so thankful for words to write, friends to connect with, people to love and family to cherish. These things, alongside God’s continual love and care, help to restore hope and strengthen my heart. They have also shaped my poetic thoughts today…¬†I pray they will speak to you as you read them.

Refreshes like dew

God’s mercy springs whole

watering our souls, like dew

refreshes, makes new

©joylenton2017

 

Light as lambs

Hope is springing‚ÄĒlight

as lambs dance on grass‚ÄĒmaking

the day feel fresh, bright

©joylenton2017

 

An eternal spring

An eternal spring

rises afresh in our hearts

as God imparts love

©joylenton2017

 

Joining in at the eleventh hour with Poet Master Ronovan’s weekly haiku challenge. Just click here to join me there and read the great posts being shared on the theme of ‘Spring&Fresh’.

alive: awakening to signs of resurrection hope

 

Spring issues us with an invitation to come alive. Winter’s hibernation slumber is over. it’s time to embrace the new and the next. But are we ready? It’s all too easy to become lethargic.

Though our mind and body may protest, feeling like we’re being tugged into a season we’re ill-prepared for, we all need a holy prod sometimes to remind us how to come alive to God, especially while we walk this Lenten pathway.

Resurrection life awaits us with the dawn of each new day. Every moment is an opportunity to engage with the holy. Every hour can speak out wonder for souls alive enough on the inside to be alert to God’s continual presence with us.

I have been thinking along these lines for my magnetic poetry offerings today, because I long for sufficient sensitivity to sense earth stirring, sap rising and God’s new life being reborn in me as I look to Him to provide for all my needs, and as I seek the eternal sunshine wonder of His glorious face each day.

Alive like wild rain

Follow ancient path’s water cycle

Stroll soft and long; climb quietly

and breathe pure, soul-sweet spring

air above daffodil-deep sanctuary

Rest and feel alive like wild rain

blanketing grass with its wet shade

©joylenton

 

Slow cloud joy

Here they devour slow cloud joy in

eternity’s liquid night-drink sky, and

wake‚ÄĒlaughing soft‚ÄĒwith the morning

like velvet prisoner’s in poetry’s home

as God gives His sacred time picture

of life’s warm and wild secret colours

©joylenton

 

Maybe we can learn to love our everyday, ordinary lives, and come alive to possibility and potential in the midst of pain and problems. Just as we marvel over spring flowers emerging from dusty, barren ground, we can watch those things we felt were dying or dead suddenly regain new shoots of life before our very eyes.

Eyes of faith see beyond the temporary and ache to experience the eternal in the temporal, the profound in the prosaic. Those with resurrection Hope etched into their souls learn to be aware and willing to receive the next thing God has planned for them.

We can have hope because God’s resurrection life pulses through our veins, rendering the ordinary mundane a work of extraordinary art and grace.¬†Will you join me in deliberately looking for signs of resurrection life within and without and focusing on what is most alive in us in this season?

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‚ÄĒlike 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‚ÄĒmakes 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

We come with a renewed view

a renewed view cross - PJ

It’s Holy Week and we come with a renewed view as we approach the calendrical remembrance of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Two thousand years of history as a body of believers marks us out in society as souls who have accepted salvation in Jesus and surrendered to God’s work in us.

We bear a banner of faith and hope to hurting souls, a breath of Holy Spirit air to those dying on the inside, a haven of peace and rest to the stressed and depressed as we share The Way to become eternally set free from the fear, sin and pain of our fallen humanity.

We are Christ followers, His grace revealers, Truth sharers and burden bearers as we carry the holy weight of the cross before a waiting world, and the sorrows etched within it to our loving Saviour.

We are also eager for them to see the other side of the cross and the new life ready to be birthed on the inside by believing in Him.

In the sharing of His Passion and suffering, we too walk the lonely road toward crucifixion, ours being a spiritual one – a daily dying to self and the resurrection powered, liberating living of a Spirit-led life.

We come with hearts heavy at the enormity of the task before our Lord, and with hearts made free by the very act of His willing surrender.

Each day we live with the potential of life transforming change wrought by the cross, and the glory of the empty tomb before us, but never more so than during a week of walking the path of remembrance with Jesus.

Our view is renewed in the remembrance, hearts are made warm with wonder and minds remain amazed by the selfless act of pure unmerited grace that has bought our freedom at such a great price.

A renewed view

We come with a renewed view

as we gain sight of the road

rising up to meet us,

the long one paved in agony

on which we have placed our feet,

soled in faithful pilgrimage.

Blood marks the path before us

as Via Dolorosa rises strong

to claim our heart’s affections

for what Christ wrought true

as He courageously fought

on a cross carved out of wood.

Staked out on this lonely hill

where His disciples gather still

JoyLenton2016

a renewed view poem pin PJ

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