“Affirming commonalities, solidarity actions, building community, humanitarian outreach.”

On February 9th, almost a month ago, I created the title for this blog post. Consistency with the spiritual practice of blogging about spiritual practices = fail. Yet, I will finish wading through the last practices in the alphabet, and finally be freed of my commitment. Consistent = no, committed = yes.

Writing about Unity on Ash Wednesday feels right, rich with possibility. What is more community building than a public acknowledgment of unity in our mortality? This planet of humans may have disagreements, we may have disagreements wherever two or more are gathered, yet we share one trait – this life as we know it is finite. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

I’ve spent time this morning reading comments about Ash Wednesday and Lent. There is a trend for “ashes to go” in urban areas. People, many who do not worship regularly, can receive ashes (and absolution?) on street corners, where clergy and laypeople gather, with small bowls of burnt palms and dusty thumbs, ready to trace a cross on any willing forehead, and repeat the words, “you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

As a pastor, and as a pastor not raised in the church, this tradition of the imposition of ashes is…curious, and complicated. Increasingly, we as a society seek control. Control of our lives, control of our time, control of…well pretty much everything. We celebrate individual freedom. We strive to achieve, to succeed, we work to create a meaningful material legacy. Ash Wednesday is an annual reminder that all is for naught. A reminder that our efforts, fierce as they may be are a Sisyphean task. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

Ash Wednesday also marks the beginning of the Season of Lent. 40 days the church encourages reflection and practices to deepen one’s faith. A season of time that mirror’s Jesus’ 40 days in the desert, resisting temptations. Christians were encouraged to give up habits; these days we are also encouraged to add on habits that are life affirming, faith strengthening. Unifying….even as we remember “ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”

The Cultural Significance of Ash Wednesday #ashtag

Thoughtful reflections on Ash Wednesday and the Season of Lent

Draughting Theology

I grew up in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, where the Tuesday that falls 47 days before the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Vernal Equinox is celebrated as Fasnacht Day.  I can remember school lunches featuring something akin to “fasnachts” (German donuts) that were covered in powdered sugar.  Beyond the fact that having donuts at school was a rare treat, most of us gave little thought to why this was a day to eat such things.  Certainly, none of us was aware that fasnacht is German for “fast night,” not as in a speedy night, but the night which begins our fast of Lent.

As I grew older, and began to become aware of certain traditions in life, the annual Shrove Tuesday pancake supper at Saint Thomas Episcopal Church.  The Pankeys and the Logans would take up a whole table and gorge ourselves on pancakes, sausage and apple…

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“Healing self and relationships, purification, fasting, mind training, self-inquiry, rituals for change, seasonal festivals, the Medicine Wheel.

I wasn’t raised in the church…I was a “none” long before “none”s were noticed. Maybe that is why I love seasonal festivals; I love the church calendar.

Being Lutheran, the church where I serve God follows the Revised Common Lectionary. We follow the church calendar. Right now we are in the season of Epiphany, the time of church year emphasizing the Light of Christ breaking through into the world…following the season of Christmas. And yes, Christmas is a season, not just a day. And the Christmas season begins Christmas Day, not the week before Halloween, though retail displays might witness otherwise.

I love the ebb and flow of the church calendar…beginning with Advent, we prepare for the birth of Jesus by a time of clearing, a time of preparation that is less about baking and putting up decorations than it is preparing spiritually for the in-breaking of God With Us – Emmanuel.

Epiphany ends with a hinge; Transfiguration Sunday – we celebrate with the Gospel reading of Jesus going up to the mountaintop, being transformed, anointed, claimed by God the Father. The church moves into Lent, a season of 40 days to remember Jesus spending 40 days in the desert, being tested, before he begins his public ministry. Lent has been traditionally a time of sacrifice, a time of giving up, so that we also might be tested. Lent is evolving into a time of reclaiming Christian identity.

Lent is followed by Holy Week: Palm/Passion Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, the Easter Vigil. Each service follows Jesus’ steps beginning with his entry into Jerusalem with the people waiving palms and crying Hosannah, to remembering the Last Supper – Jesus washing the feet of his disciples, Jesus saying, “this is my body, this is my blood.” On Good Friday the church remembers Jesus dying on the cross; it is good because in his death Jesus overcame death. The Saturday Vigil, celebrated in the evening, is the traditional time of baptism for those candidates who have prepared over a one or two year period. Easter services traditionally begin with sunrise, the time Mary and the other disciples discovered the empty tomb and the risen Jesus.

The season of Easter (yes, it is a season and not just a day) end on Pentecost, the day the church celebrates receiving the Holy Spirit. The remainder of the year following Pentecost until Christ the King Day, the last Sunday of the church year, is Ordinary Time, or Sundays After Pentecost. This is working time for the church, when we re-learn how we are called to live as God’s people in the world.

During these seasons, year in and year out, Christ’s followers are transformed, we are reminded who we are called to be, how we are to live, and ever so slowly God’s Kingdom breaks through into the world.


“Studying with a teacher, sitting with elders, receiving darshan, mentoring, reflecting on quotations, reading spiritual books, interpreting signs from the natural world, totems.”

Anselm of Canterbury; “I pray you, Lord, make me taste by love what I taste by knowledge; let me know by love what I know by understanding. I owe you more than my whole self, but I have no more, and by myself I cannot render the whole of it to you. Draw me to you, Lord, in the fullness of love. I am wholly yours by creation; make me all yours, too, in love.”

Julian of Norwich; “and from the time that it was revealed, I desired many times to know in what was our Lord’s meaning. And fifteen years after and more, I was answered in spiritual understanding, and it was said: What, do yo wish to know your Lord’s meaning in this thing? Know it well, love was his meaning. Who reveals it to you? Love. What did he reveal to you? Love. Why does he reveal it to you? For love.”

Thomas Merton; “I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me, I can not know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think, that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope that I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death, I will not fear for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

Parker J. Palmer; “Our lives participate in the myth of eternal return: we circle around and spiral down, never finally answering the questions “Who am I?” and “Whose am I?” but, in the works of Rilke, “living the questions” throughout our lives.”


“Contemplation, solitude, silent retreats, quieting the mind, centering prayer.”

I will sit quietly. I will sit quietly here, with the sun shining in through the south side window, a bright beam of light splaying the carpeted floor. I will sit quietly. I will clear my mind.

I will clear my mind with a centering prayer; a prayer I learned years ago and use today to calm down, in moments of anxiety, moments of fear, moments of need. “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” “Jesus Christ” breath in, “Son of God” breath out, “have mercy on me” breath in, “a sinner” breath out. Repeat, breathing, repeat.

Huh. Maybe I should light a candle. I have all these candles I forget to light. I appreciate the candles lit during spiritual direction…a centering candle is helpful….I can stay focused, I can look at something.

“Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

A few minutes pass…I am praying the centering prayer, I am breathing. I notice my shoulder aches. I forget the prayer, the breathing, I think about my shoulder. How long is it going to ache? Should I stretch it out, or will that make the pain worse?

“Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” I begin again, I breath in, breath out with each line. I notice my cat, who had been lying quietly, roll over and stretch out, extending his back, arching. He’s such a sweet cat, so good natured… “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

I sit alone in my living room, alone except for the company of my cat, who is content to sit on his haunches, eyes half closed. I sit in silence but there is no silence. Thoughts play through my mind, random thoughts, thoughts that make true silence difficult. Thoughts that make opening myself to the presence of the Holy a struggle. So, I sigh, and once again I say in my mind, the centering prayer used for centuries, “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”


“Shadow and wholeness work, identifying and taking back projections, embracing obstacles and failures, giving up addictions.

Do you remember playing with your shadow? Growing up, our house was on a dirt street, but nearby, on our neighbors street, a paved road AND a sidewalk. Perfect for playing with my shadow. I’d admire my shadow, dance with her, try to stretch her out, move her about. Sometimes I’d like to escape from my shadow; I’d try to out run her, or wave her away.

Claiming, embracing, maybe even playing with our shadow side is important spiritual work. Important work that many of us would rather avoid all together. For this spiritual practice requires us to honestly face ourselves, even – maybe especially – our dark sides, that dark side of the moon we’d just as soon never expose to others, let alone ourselves.

Richard Rohr writes about shadow sides, and in “Falling Upward”, about the shell of self we spend our early adulthood creating. This shell, this frame comes about from family’s, culture’s expectations. We go to school, we excel in sports, or academics or arts, we find work that allows us to become consumers. We consume – we buy a car, a house, the accessories necessary, especially for what was considered a middle class American lifestyle.

At some point in this shell of a life, something happens – an event, a crisis – large or small, it is enough to crack the shell. We fall to our knees when we realize the emptiness of shell living. We have an opportunity to admit for ourselves, to see our shadow selves – the very real parts that are less than perfect to the world, but those parts that make us indeed very human, very vulnerable to the One who created us and who loves us, shadow side and all.

Once the crack in the shell occurs, we have an option – to begin life anew, embracing our shadow side, learning from her. Or, we follow the first path again, rebuilding another shell…buying a larger house, faster car, “newer” spouse. And we never again recognize or embrace or shadow self.


“Radical respect, awe, bowing, animal advocacy, recycling, environmental activism.”

A couple of decades ago, when our eldest was a Boy Scout and earning his way up the ranks, he had to talk at one meeting about which of the Boy Scout laws he found most difficult to follow. Our eldest chose being reverent. I admit, when he told us, that I was shocked. Being reverent was hard in our family? We attended worship almost every Sunday, we prayed before meals, we cared for others, we recycled. Why was being reverent hard in our family?

Our eldest mistook being reverent for a particular piety. A particular way of being religious or reverent. We watched The Simpsons. My husband and sons watched South Park. I admit, I found it too often offensive, though there were thought provoking episodes. Our eldest thought that because we didn’t behave like other Christians he knew that we weren’t reverent. We didn’t listen to Christian radio; our stations were set to Golden Oldies. We didn’t carry around bibles. Being Lutheran, and my husband German, we were pretty private about our faith.

The spiritual practice of reverence covers a wide spectrum of piety – as listed above. From bowing, to animal advocacy – recognizing and responding to the divine in all of creation. Recycling as an act of stewardship, giving thanks for what we’ve been given and returning it, recycling it, again as recognition of the divine in creation.

During one seminary class, Spirituality and Prayer, we practiced a number of prayer positions, including lying prone. Prone, flat on the floor, arms out, creating a cross. An act of piety, an act of reverence. An act that is “natural” and feels appropriately humbling to some. An act that feels contrived to others. My point is, one person’s acts of reverence won’t fit for another. We are called to live a life of reverence, finding practices that show our deep respect for God, and for God’s creation.