The last two weeks, at coffees and at dinner, we've been discussing the "holy days" that are upon us. We even celebrated Fat Tuesday (often called Mardi Gras, which is the French translation) at dinner one night with enchiladas and games... Mardi Gras has traditionally been a time for fun and excess before Lent, which is often seen as a time of giving up those things. We talked about how during Mardi Gras, people often wear masks... masks, for certain populations in history, especially for women and those without a lot of resources, gave an opportunity to be anything one wanted! So, if Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras is about being anything you want (we agreed that a lot of people during Mardi Gras definitely go too far with what they want), then maybe Ash Wednesday is about knowing you don't have to be or want everything.
On Ash Wednesday we "celebrate" that we are "dust". We read scriptures that remind us we were made from dust and we will return to dust (we read Psalm 103), which is a scary but freeing focus on our mortality. If you will one day be dust, how much should you really worry about that midterm or that summer internship, or if you are meeting all of your financial goals? Ash Wednesday is how we start the season of Lent, which is a season also of repentance, of remembering that we are dust, but we aren't harmless. We all make decisions that hurt those around us... or support systems that hurt whole populations.
If Fat Tuesday is about being able to be anything we want, and Ash Wednesday is about knowing we don't have to be everything, then Lent may be about learning that we shouldn't have everything, especially when it comes at the cost of another. Continuing our study of parables in Luke, we read a story about humility (14:1-14), and putting others first. The last week or so we've talked about Lenten practices that might help with that: some talked about giving things up, and using the money from the things you give up to help someone else, others talked about taking things on, like journaling or truly making space in our days to feel what we feel. And this made me think about one of the texts for Ash Wednesday, which we also read a couple weeks ago, Psalm 51. The psalm says that our sacrifice to God is not necessarily something we can find or attain, but something we can feel. The Lord does not spurn a broken heart, and with all that's going on in our world it's natural, and even necessary for all our hearts to be broken. And in this season of Lent, I'm looking forward to us discovering together how we can allow God to change us and heal us all.