Holy Lord God, help us to begin our Lenten Journey with open hearts, filled with your Joy. Help us to give ourselves up to spiritual efforts, to cleanse our minds, our souls, and our flesh. Help us to take pleasure in the good works of the Holy Spirit and to accomplish works of love that will witness to the love given to us in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
It may sound strange to suggest that we can anticipate joy while we are heavy laden in Lent. We anticipate Easter with every step of our journey through Lent, but why stop there? No, I do not mean to suggest that we do not experience the joy of Easter after Easter. I mean why stop with anticipation? Why not experience joy now?
As Norman Wirzba, Professor of Theology at Duke University, notes:
“Let’s get clear about our most basic commitments and attachments and then determine if they have their impulse in a clean heart. The time of Lent is not about saying ‘No’ to anything made or provided by God. It cannot be, because everything God has made is good and beautiful, a gift and blessing that God has provided as the expression of his love. If there is a ‘No’ that has to be said, it will be a ‘No’ directed to the distorting and degrading ways we have developed in appropriating these gifts. We do not appreciate how in mishandling the gifts of God we bring ruin to ourselves and to the world while we are in the midst of having a good time.”
We have so many Lenten traditions and practices: giving up, denying, abstaining, or taking on labors which curtail other areas of our lives even as gazing north denies us the vistas of the south. We are, after all, creatures and seemingly incapable of multidimensional action, but we are also Christians and blessed by the indwelling power of God.
If you have already begun your Lenten practice of denial and fasting, that is perfectly fine, but add one more component—God. Lent is really focused on us—maybe too much. Instead of dwelling on the crack in your armor, look to the armorer for help. Instead of lamenting the circumstances that brought you to this point, celebrate the potential and possible wonders ahead! Instead of seeing failure and weakness in the mirror, witness the miracle and wonder of a child of God!
There is a story of a woman in Lent…
“I thought that serving in a shelter would distract me from my cravings, and I specifically stayed out of the kitchen, but now I stood before the table anxious and angry. Angry that I wanted to eat so badly, not because I was hungry--but because I was addicted, and anxious that I would not be able to fight off the urge and I would fail again. By the third week of Lent I hated food, because I hated myself for wanting it, and I hated God for making it so good. When the people came in, my anxiety grew unbearable, as they took the food all I could think about was, “There won’t be enough for me!”
I heard her crying before I saw her. She had already received a plateful and one for her daughter, but I had not noticed her, I was focused on the food. Now I saw her, crying as she fed her daughter, and I heard a co-worker say that they hadn’t eaten in two days. Now I saw her, I saw her, not the food—now, I saw her.
I have served at the shelter every week since that day. I am filled with joy that I am so loved by a God who makes such wonderful things for us. Where once I craved food to fill me up, now I am filled to overflowing with God’s love as others are fed. Sometimes I sit with them and talk about the abundance of God and the joy God has for us all. I always ask them about their life, and they always ask me what it’s like to be the cook.
Peace in Christ,
“Remember you are dust…”
Preparing for our Online service and Observance of Ash Wednesday
February 17, 2021 7:00 p.m.
This year, our Ash Wednesday service will be a bit more intimate than in the past. Strange to use that word in the context of our current “Zoom” worship services, isn’t it?! Intimate: something that is “innermost and cherished.” Perhaps a better word is “familial.” Ash Wednesday is always an intimate time and our worship together is always an intimate experience. But this year we will gather in our homes, inviting God into that time and space as we gather in couples, singles, families, and all of us one—a familial embrace. As odd as this may seem at first, there is nothing “virtual” about it–I believe our prayers will enfold us into a spiritual comfort in which we will truly encounter the holiness of God.
As we ready ourselves for Lent and how to observe it under changed circumstances, I want to remind you that the Spiritual truths are unchanged: As always, the two key components of Ash Wednesday are prayer and meditation. It takes time and spiritual effort to allow God in, to share the innermost parts of you and cherish God above all other things, people and concepts (safety, health, etc.) in your life. Embrace that time with this earnest beginning.
Thereby, the whole congregation was put in mind of the message of pardon and absolution set forth in the Gospel of our Savior, and of the need which all Christians continually have to renew their repentance and faith. Ash Wednesday service, BCP page 264
The Ash Wednesday service is the very first service listed in the BCP section of “Proper Liturgies for Special Days” (See page 264). Think of it a little like a spiritual new year, then. Like all liturgical services, it is both a lens and focal point. As a lens, the service focuses our attention on the theological and spiritual reality of our state and condition as creatures. As creatures go, we are foremost and precious in the mind and heart of God, but we are also simply created beings: broken and in need or redemption. So, we look with new eyes on ourselves and our lives as they truly are.
Ash Wednesday is itself, also a focal point, a moment in time that draws us away from everything else. The service demands our attention, as all services do, if we are going to focus that lens in a manner through which we can truly see the face of God.
This year we must take extra care as in all our services, to tend the “focal point.” As we gather by ZOOM or YouTube, the mechanics of how we are gathering will attempt to trivialize and distract us; in effect the mechanics can quickly become the focal point. We must resist this distraction in the same manner that we would resist focusing on a fly or particle of dust or other superficial distraction. Yet another opportunity for self-discipline God will help with if you ask.
I encourage you to prepare for our service beforehand by changing your gathering space to reflect our time together. A simple way to do this is to light a candle and place it where you can see it. Perhaps add a glass of water as well, a reminder that Jesus is the Water of Life and without this water we cannot live. You may choose to do more to your worship space, let the Spirit lead. In short, make the space different, dedicated and focused at this moment for this time together. Now that you are put in mind--embraced by the Focal Point, now you can focus that lens on the deeper message of the Gospel.
Like so many services, this service invites you to partake of a radical and profound action, an act of acknowledgement and reception which carries the power to alter your life. If we were gathered at church, you would walk to the altar rail and receive the Imposition of Ashes, but not this year. Far from being a “lesser sacrament,” this year’s “self-imposition”, or home-imposition, of ashes has the potential of power and revelation as yet unknown. You will take the ash, You say the words, You will hold symbol of life and death in your hand and choose. It’s a sacramental act with or without your faith and attention, for God’s work is immutable, but how much more meaningful and life-changing it can be with your spiritual investment.
The choice for Life come from the reality of death. It may seem strange to look or contemplate ash—the reduction of a thing to its absolute inert state, and see life, but that is what we do. Symbolically, the ash signifies the end of all things we want and desire that are not of God. The ash represents even hope and perspective, the love we feel and the pain we experience based on our desires in an earthly system that is falling away, though we try to hang on to it. Misguided focus and misappropriated effort are reduced to ash, and at last, our line of sight is broken and we see True Life—behind the Cross on our forehead.
So, how do I get ashes?
You will need a small bowl, a spoon, matches, and patience.
Here are several methods to consider (don’t miss #4):
Our Ash Wednesday Service will be the same and yet different. A wonderful, miraculous time of anticipation, manifestation, and revelation, through which God is present and you are blessed. Please call me with any questions on how I can assist you to be part of the Body on Ash Wednesday.
Almighty God, you have created us out of the dust of the earth: Grant that these ashes may be to us a sign of our mortality and penitence, that we may remember that it is only by your gracious gift that we are given everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.
“Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” - John 3:6-8
Our spiritual life is a very important part of who we are in general and who we are specifically as Christians. I have often said that if we were to equate our status of being as a Christian with our status of being as a citizen, it is akin to holding dual citizenship. If I held dual citizenship papers I would be, in effect, a full citizen of two nations with all the rights and responsibilities of both. We are made both of the flesh and of the spirit, and we must live into dual reality of our being.
For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace. Romans 8:6
Our spirit enables us to have a spiritual connection to the Holy Spirit, through whom we experience the life of God flowing through us. The night before he died, Jesus consecrated the Disciples with the Holy Spirit in the Upper Room and pre-figured the full coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. His communion, his “with-ness” with us, is our rebirth. This revelation of the presence of God with us was the pivotal point of life in the post Ascension era. To be “Born Again” and to recognize the indwelling life of the Holy Spirit is to faithfully live our lives as the “spiritual citizens” Jesus has called us to be. Living into our spiritual life and growing spiritually is not only a mark of Christian Baptism but a necessity of Christian life. Put more bluntly, if you are the same person you were last year at this time, you have some spiritual growing up to do.
There is much you may currently be doing to grow spiritually, or you have tried in the past, but God calls us daily, even moment by moment. It’s not like a new yoga class or diet or fitness regimen, or anything that can be completed and passed. Living “in the spirit” is a constant awareness of the presence of God in life—and in your life, specifically—and a faithful and prayerful submission to God’s shaping of you. And because trust, obedience, humility, and un-self-awareness are not the most human of virtues, there is always more you can do to grow in the Spirit.
Oftentimes, the hard part in the process of spiritual growth is figuring out where to start. I have put links to two “Spiritual Inventories” below: one is an on-line assessment and the other will need to be printed. Both are well formulated and constructed by other church groups. Because of this they will have specific suggestions at the end that will match their parish. When you finish, simply “insert here” our parish resources or call me and I will help construct a “Spiritual Growth Plan” specifically for you!
Online Spiritual Life Inventory
PDF Personal Spiritual Inventory
“We are one in the Spirit—We are one in the Lord!”
Hello, Creator Family –
Hope you are enjoying the “snow days” from a warm, safe spot. It has been a beautiful reminder for me that Winter--the seasons and the passage of time--still occurs, even though the pandemic seems to have suspended and upended so much. It can’t touch this: the certainty of a winter storm. What else can’t it touch?
Recently, I was talking with a friend whose heart is heavy-laden with the trials and tribulations of our present life. I say, our present life because he was weighed down by concerns that seemed to expand exponentially from our inner self, our spirit, out to encompass and embrace this broken and desperate world. There is no wonder that he suffers so, that so many suffer under this sense of doom that seems to blanket our every turn even as the snow covers the ground—but we are not meant for this.
The rhythmic blows of separation and incongruity ripple through the heart destined for wholeness and love. The tap, tap, tap assault of politics and personal interplay create spider cracks in the spirit and sadness, and fear resonates with each pounding blow—but we are not meant for this.
Eyes, our eyes, are the “window of the soul,” said Plato. That’s true of those who look into the heart of the bearer, but what of those looking out? Eyes see, not a world untouched by human hands, but a world tamed by mind and spirit. The eyes see only as the heart knows, and the mind understands, and spirit lights; the eyes are our windows through which we see the mirror—we are meant for this.
Now in this time of life, life bracketed by eternal hope and divine intention, we resonate with the sound of angels’ breath. Taking into ourselves the broken and fallen earth-scape, we are touched by God, and in cold isolation, feel the warming ruah of the Holy Spirit bringing is alive in the Body—we are meant for this.
Half a country away, I wanted to grab this friend of mine and not let go. I wanted to stare into his eyes and tell him of the love and life that God breathes there—there in his spirit. I wanted to show him that the cracks are not fractures and the breaking is not broken, and the world is not emptied of compassion and peace. Though the cold and winter of heart and soul seems prevailing, the fire of God’s love is ever burning—we are to know this.
In the bleak midwinter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter
Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him,
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter
A stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty,
In the Bleak Midwinter, by Christina Rossetti
Father Bill Burk†