I’ll never forget my freshmen students furtively staring at me as they came into English class about twelve years ago. Only one or two was brave enough to bring up the obvious: “Mrs. Bock, you have dirt on your forehead.” “Yes, I know. I went to Ash Wednesday services this morning and chose to keep the ashes on me today to remind me of it.” I was able to get an idea of how few of my students would be willing to tell me if something about me looked wrong.
I grew up in a few conservative Protestant churches where the most elaborate church calendar that was followed only included monthly communion, Easter day, and Christmas day. My churches didn’t even commemorate Good Friday or Christmas Eve, much less Ash Wednesday or Pentecost. I’m not saying they were wrong in this–they taught the Bible in its entirety, and I’m glad I was given a good Biblical base at a young age. I still attend a church today that does not recognize Ash Wednesday in any way.
However, I received my college education at a Free Methodist college, which did celebrate the liturgical calendar, and this is where I learned about Ash Wednesday for the first time. Ash Wednesday set the tone for the Lenten season, a time when the cross at the front of the church was draped in dark purple, symbolizing a time of reflection and even mourning. Ash Wednesday was a time to remember my human frailty–I was made from dust, and to dust I shall return–made even more real by the grayish smear of ashes in the vague shape of a cross on my forehead in churches I attended for Ash Wednesday services since college–the ashes at which my students gaped.
I wasn’t able to attend any services today because of other commitments, so my kids didn’t have a reason to look at me funny, but I can still remember this day that starts off Lent. Lent is usually a time of fasting, either from food or something else desirable, and I do plan to include some of that during the next 40 days, but it can also be a time to add something positive into a daily routine, something that focuses my attention more on God each day.
When my family and I moved to our new town in Texas four months ago, I decided to join a group of praying women on (too early) Thursday mornings. A few of those women gave me the idea to pray through a Lenten prayer book called “Seek God for the City 2016.” I looked for the booklet online to recommend, and though in a quick search I couldn’t find a print version on sale right now, I did find an app for 99 cents for iPhones, iPads, and android smartphones and tablets, as well as a children’s version so I can go through the prayers with my kids at their level as well.
I hope that some of you will take the opportunity to take part in the Lenten season with me and pray for your city, too!