Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Today is Ash Wednesday and the Beginning of Lent

Today is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. For those in the Eastern tradition Great Lent started this past Monday with what is called “Clean Monday.” See the post from the Voice of Stefan for more. I thought I would provide a couple of selections from two books I’ve been reading through in my journey with the liturgical year: The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life by Joan Chittister and Ancient-Future Time: Forming Spirituality Through the Christian Year by Robert E. Webber.

First this thought from Chittister on Ash Wednesday:
“Ash Wednesday, an echo of the Hebrew Testament’s ancient call to sackcloth and ashes, is a continuing cry across the centuries that life is transient, that change is urgent. We don’t have enough time to waste time of nothingness. We need to repent our dillydallying on the road to God. We need to regret the time we’ve spent playing with dangerous distractions and empty diversions along the way. We need to repent of our senseless excesses and our excursions into sin, our breeches of justice, our failures of honesty, our estrangement from God, our savoring of excess, our absorbing self-gratifications, one infantile addiction, one creature craving another. . . We hear now, as Jesus proclaimed in Galilee, ‘Turn away from sin and believe the good news.’ (Mark 1:15)”
And on the subject of Lent we have this from Webber:
“A specific example of a Lenten discipline for us to adopt and practice is found in St. Ephrem the Syrian, a fourth-century spiritual writer. A Lenten prayer he wrote is to this day prayed in the Eastern Orthodox Church every evening from Monday through Friday during Lent. Here is the text:
O Lord and Master of my life!Take from me the spirit of sloth, faint-heartedness, lust of power and idle talk.But give me rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love to my servant.Yea, O Lord and King!  Grant me to see my own errors and not to judge my brother; for thou are blessed unto ages of ages. Amen.”
Webber notes four negative concerns:
“Sloth—a laziness that prevents us from choosing a spiritual pilgrimage aimed at overcoming the powers of evil working against us. Faintheartedness—despondency, a negative and pessimistic attitude toward life. Lust of power—the assertion of self as lord of life expressed in the desire to subordinate other people under our power. Idle talk—a negative power of speech that puts others down and uses words in a destructive rather than constructive way.”
There are four positive characteristics:
“Chastity/wholeness—the word is most often used regarding sexuality. But its real meaning is the opposite of sloth and refers to wholeness. Broadly speaking it refers to the recovery of true values in every area of life. Humility—the fruit of wholeness is humility, the victory of God’s truth taking hold in our entire life. The humble person lives by the truth of God and sees life as God has made it and intended it to be. Patience—patience sees the depth of life in all is complexity and does not demand instant changes now, in this moment. Love—the opposite of pride. When wholeness, humility, and patience are worked in us, the result is a person characterized by love. This kind of person is one who can sincerely pray, ‘Grant me to see my own errors and not to judge my brother.’”
He concludes:
“I suggest you memorize this prayer and repeat it frequently during the days of Lent. In the morning meditate on the four powers from which you seek to be delivered—sloth, faintheartedness, lust of power, and idle talk. At noon mediate on the four virtues you desire to experience in your life—chastity/wholeness, humility, patience, and love. During each day determine to find a specific situation in which you can exercise one or more of both the negative and positive disciplines. Then in the evening when you pray the prayer again, review the events of the day and identify the way in which you have fulfilled one or another of these spiritual goals. To be most effective this prayer and the form it takes in your life should be coupled with fasting from food (ascetical fast) and the giving of alms (preferably to the poor).” (116)

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