By The Rev. Amy P. Turner, Head Chaplain
Ash Wednesday is the beginning of the Season of Lent, a season of preparation and penitence. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of 40 days in which we remember Jesus’ time in the wilderness and his time of preparation before he began his ministry in Galilee and its surrounding areas. The wilderness time was not only a period of self-sacrifice for Jesus, but a time to gain strength, confidence, and resolve for his mission through the testing of Satan and his time away from others. Jesus did this through fasting and time spent in prayer with God.
This year, Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine’s Day, and the date serves as a powerful reminder of God and Jesus’ love for all humanity and creation. We are reminded of this deep love especially in St. Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth, often read at weddings. “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends” (1 Corinthians 4-8).
Each Ash Wednesday the people of God are invited to a Holy Lent – an intentional time each year that provides us an invitation to look inward at our spiritual lives and spend more time in thought, prayer and reflection with God.
We can still see Lent as a time where we give up something we really enjoy, something we will try to do without: soda, chocolate, meat, social media, an extra hour of TV. Not to act holier than thou, as the Ash Wednesday gospel passage reminds, nor as an attempt to better or improve ourselves either — that’s what New Year’s resolutions are for. Instead, our acts of giving up or taking on something during Lent are meant for one purpose and one alone: to bring us closer to God, the one who gives us life and sustains us.
And God also reminds us that true fasting means more than focusing on ourselves as individuals, it also means putting ourselves out there to help those in the world in need. God is interested not only in our individual change, but in helping us bring about the Kingdom of God here on Earth. Our individual acts and practices can be useful for us, but we are encouraged to think beyond ourselves – to think about others, i.e. all of God’s people in the world. How can our individual practices look beyond our small piece of the world? On Ash Wednesday, when our faces are marked by ashes, we have a visible sign that reminds of the brokenness and messiness of the world. It is not clean and sanitized, and unlike the ashes on our foreheads, the messiness cannot be easily wiped away with a wet paper towel after the service.
During Lent, we can take some intentional time and seek to grow closer to God. In growing closer to God, we grow in our understanding of what God has called us to do, how God has called us to live. We grow in awareness of our purpose, our calling and our ministry as God’s people, and how we can best live it out as beloved and blessed sons and daughters here.
I encourage and invite each of you to a prayer-filled and Holy Lent. I hope and pray you grow deeper in your knowledge of God’s love over the next 40 days.
Below are some online resources to help engage yourself and your children during Lent:
Daily Episcopal Relief and Development Lenten Meditations
Reflections are from faith leaders from across the Anglican Communion. The reflections focus on children and explore how children inform our spirituality and what we can learn from their spiritual lives. Go to the link below to sign up for daily emails.
Weekly Ecumenical Reflections
Short reflections and prayers for each week.
A fun, engaging way for people to learn about the men and women comprising the Church’s Calendar of Saints. Thirty-two saints are pitted in a tournament bracket, and the public is encouraged to vote each day to see who advances to get the Golden Halo.
Praying in Color through Lent
Prayers do not always have to be through words, but can include drawings, doodles, and color. Here are four PDF templates that can be printed out and used throughout Lent. Ideas for how to use the prayer calendars are included in the link.
Creating a Lenten Prayer Space at Home
Lent is a great time to incorporate more intentional family prayer time at home. The author has some great ideas of how to use simple items to help children journey through Lent.