Happy Ash Wednesday

I'm working on a Top Ten for my time in NYC, but for now it's Ash Wednesday and I've two services to prepare for, noon and 7 pm. Today marks the beginning of Lent. It is Day One of our journey with and through Christ's sufferings. While it catches me by surprise ("Here already?"), I feel a sense of excitment about it. 

Lent is this amazing opportunity to discover new strengths, or what the Bible would call new graces, through our willing embrace of both negative and positive acts of mortification. We fast longer than we thought we were capable. We give more than we thought we had. We deny ourselves our usual pleasures and discover that instead of feeling a great loss, we feel stronger, more lucid, more capacious and vigorously free. We also discover which of our appetites are compulsive, distracting and grasping and therefore good only for a swift chucking away. So chuck away, mi amigos! 

I want to copy here one of my favorite passages from Richard Foster's book on prayer, Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home. This comes out of his chapter on the prayer of relinquishment. 

"Do you know what a great freedom this crucifixion of the will is? It means freedom from what A. W. Tozer called 'the fine threads of self-life, the hyphenated sins of the human spirit.' It means freedom from the self-sins: self-sufficiency, self-pity, self-absorption, self-abuse, self-aggrandizement, self-castigation, self-deception, self-exaltation, self-depreciation, self-indulgence, self-hatred, and a host of others just like them. 

It means freedom from the everlasting burden of always having to get our own way. It means freedom to care for others, to genuinely put their needs first, to give joyfully and freely. 

"Little by little we are changed by this daily crucifixion of the will. Changed, not like a tornado changes things, but like a grain of sand in an oyster changes things. New graces emerge: new ability to cast all our care upon God, new joy at the success of others, new hope in a God who is good. 

"Please remember, we are dealing with the crucifixion of the will, not the obliteration of the will. Crucifixion always has resurrection tied to it. God is not destroying the will but transforming it so that over a process of time and experience we can freely will what God wills. In the crucifixion of the will we are enable to let go of our tightfisted hold on life and follow our best prayers." 

Father, I pray, grant us a special grace today to embrace your chastening and cleansing work in our hearts. Strengthen us to love you with all of our body, that we may submit our will to your will, that we may always pray on every occasion and to every part of our lives--our family, our friends, our work, our art-making, our ambitions and dreams and expectations--no matter what, Thy will be done. 

We know it is your will that we be conformed to the image of your Son Jesus. We pray today, show us how we may walk with Him through a willing, happy participation in his suffering. We know our flesh will try to trick us into giving up and walking away from your voice, but help us to ignore our flesh. Help us to flick it away like a fly on our shoulder. Just flick it. We also pray that you would give us a vision of our resurrected self. We need this that we may be encouraged on the days in which suffering and weakness are the last thing we want to be doing. 

We know, Father, that such a vision would sustain and inspire us to keep our discipline. We need this vision and we know only you can give it to us. So grant it to us today, we plead with you. We love you, oh God, we need you, we worship you. We offer you this day the gift of a heart that says, "Yes, Lord, whatever you want from me, I give you. Whatever is not good for me now, I relinquish to you. Whatever life you wish to impart to me from your Son Jesus during this season of Lent, no matter how painful the transfusion, I receive from you. 

Holy Spirit, walk with me today that I may accomplish all that the Father has for me. Walk with me through this season. I need you; I need you desperately. I welcome your power to help me become more like Jesus. And it is through his gracious name that we pray all these things. Amen."

(PHOTO: Anita Horton, "Station VIII: Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem," Hope Chapel, 14 Stations exhibit, Lent 2003.)


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