A little bit different Ash Wednesday…

This is an odd season in our lives. I retired from active, pastoral ministry at the end of 2010. And as part of that decision, we very deliberately chose not to attend our worshiping community through the first quarter of this year, returning to worship and serve after Easter. I say deliberate because I know myself too well. If I were there, I would too quickly fall back into old patterns, assuming responsibilities that are no longer mine to assume. And I also know that others in our community might do the same thing, expecting me to continue to ‘be there’ in the ways that I have been for 14 years. So, we opted to make a break. We reasoned that it would be great fun to check out other worshipping communities in our area, we could have more freedom on weekends than we’ve had in nearly 20 years, that we could spend time with our kids and visit their churches. Etc., etc., etc.

The truth of this situation? We’re adrift a bit, cut off, by our own choice, from the people and place that feels like home. And, let me be quick to add, there are many good pieces to that. We all need reminding from time to time that ‘this world is not our home,’ that God is present in many places and in many ways, that other communities are valid, creative, worshiping, serving, caring outworkings of the Spirit’s life in The Church (caps intentional).

But we’re acutely aware, especially as we move into Lent and all that this rich season of the year means, that we’re in a different place than we’ve ever been in before. Sort of betwixt and between, neither fish nor fowl, at sixes and sevens – to use every cliche I can think of that’s relevant to this idea.

So as Ash Wednesday approached, I pondered what might be best for us to do. I contemplated attending another church’s service – something I’ve done before (in addition to our own), but this year, that was difficult for us to do. You see, Wednesday is Lilly Day for us. We keep our youngest, newly-turned-one granddaughter – something we LOVE to do, enjoy immensely, wouldn’t give up for the world, and yet also find exhausting in the extreme. Can’t quite put our fingers on why we feel so tired with one day’s worth of watching such a beautiful, charming, fascinating child – but we do. Probably has something to do with our advancing age, which only serves to underscore our ever-increasing delight in the truth that we did this as parents when we were quite a lot younger!

So attending an early or even midday service was out. And the thought of getting dressed up a bit and hurrying through dinner to attend an evening service didn’t call out to us, either. So, I went a different direction.

Last year, I ordered this beautiful wooden labyrinth style Advent and Lenten worship aid from a young man in Canada. His mother writes a beautiful blog, which I began following shortly before my retirement and last year at about this time, she began posting beautiful photos of her son’s work and I thought it would be a great ministry tool. When it arrived, I kept it out for a long time, enjoying it’s simple beauty (two pieces of the spiral come off to make a 24-candle-hole Advent ‘path.’) But I didn’t use it at church. I carefully put it away with my fine china and enjoyed knowing that it was there.

So, I got it out on Wednesday. I had bought some lovely spring flowers at Trader Joe’s earlier in the week and I moved that centerpiece back on the table, giving more focus to our hand-hewn journey-marker. Another blogsite (you see, this is what I do these days – explore the world of blogdom, hoping to find my way to more writing opportunities as I learn about what’s out there, and what’s not…) offered me the lovely gift of a Lenten devotional guide, free for the printing and I put it into a folder and placed it on the table, too.
For whatever reason, Dick and I have gotten into the weird habit of keeping the TV on during dinner – usually tuned to the PBS Newshour (or Jeopardy, if it’s a later dinner!). So for Lent this year, I offered the suggestion that we give that up, replacing the noise with candlelight, brief devotions and discussion. Dick thought that was a good idea – so that’s what we did.
This may be a scandalous thing to admit in such a public forum, but we’ve never been big on family devotions in our house. We’ve done them from time to time, when the kids were younger, and we certainly made a huge point to be together for as many meals as possible while our children were growing, we prayed together over the food and we talked easily and openly about matters of faith. We memorized scripture together, we did service projects together, we taught our children to come to God with thanksgiving and concerns from an early age. But my husband grew up in a home with mandatory morning devotions – and he hated it. And he made it clear very early on that he was not interested in repeating that pattern. So we didn’t. We found our own way, we talked a lot, we explored our faith together and we have enjoyed finding ways of making that faith real in the context of home, work and world.
But this is the first time in a long time that we’ve had any real structure to that – and so far (one week in!) we’re liking it a lot. I missed having the mark of the ashes on my head – and more than that, I missed being one of the persons who imposed that mark on others, offering the wonderful words: “You are but dust and ashes. Repent and believe the gospel.” But I was glad and grateful to be in our home, really looking at each other over dinner by candlelight, and sharing together briefly from the Word and from life. A different Ash Wednesday. But a good one.

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  1. Sweet thoughts Diana. I missed you there too. So when Doug Johnson came through the line for imposition, I realized I did not have you to mark my head, so I quickly asked him. Nice idea of TV off. Peace!

  2. Thanks, Don. Enjoy this week away!

  3. This is wonderful. This time of Lent already looks and feels different before just in the way that you are able to shut out the noise. Your pictures show such peace and passion and I am excited to see what God does between you and your husband during this season. I’m so glad you are here today at SDG. I hope you keep coming back!

  4. So blessed and happy that you are using the Lent devotional! And what a beautiful table…I just want to pull up a chair!

  5. Thanks for inviting us into your Lenten celebration. How good God is to meet us when we are betwixt and between. Also lovely seeing the way God ministers to and through one another out here in blog world. Blessings.