By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust and to dust you shall return. Genesis 3:19
These are words, the origin of what we call Ash Wednesday, spoken as ashes are imposed on our foreheads-a reminder that we are sinners and time for us to focus on repentance. References to the ritual of this day, date back to Anglo-Saxon abbot, Aelfric (955-1020). He encouraged the sprinkling of ashes to remind us to repent during the Lenten fast at the beginning of the season of Lent.
Job also refers to this kind of repentance in chapter 42, verse 6: therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes. But what does it mean? It’s like when my kids were little and they did something wrong and began to say they were sorry when they knew they were in trouble, but the behavior didn’t change. I’d tell them not to apologize unless they meant to change the behavior. And isn’t it the same with us?
So I’ve been pondering Ash Wednesday and what it should mean to me. Some answers can be found in Isaiah, when the Lord speaks to those who ask Him why He doesn’t notice when they fast:
Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? Is not this the fast that I choose; to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. Isaiah 58:5-9
I look to do some fasting during lent and when the hunger pains come, to let them remind me that I need to repent and to pray. And as I look around my world, to do my utmost to be just, to lift up others who are burdened, to be generous with those who are hungry (right in my classroom) and homeless, in need of clothing, and most especially within my own family. I did not expect to read that, and wonder how you could turn away your own family when they are in need.
And such rewards! I will call and God will answer, “Here I am.” Like a child, lost, alone, and scared in the dark, God will answer. So I can see, dimly, that whether or not I give something up, there is much work to do during this season of Lent right here in my prairie filled backyard. I feel the call to make my writing something that lifts up, that breaks yokes, that calls to best in people. It is my hope.