Last week I shared a little about my first Ash Wednesday service and the lenten season that would follow. And, even though I was a little mystified and confused by everything happening around me, I found myself, that first Lent, on a revelatory journey.
The mystery and confusion came as ashes were placed on our foreheads. I loved the symbolism of reminding us that we’ll die and that we’re redeemed in Christ, but it seemed at the time incongruous with Jesus’ words in Matthew 6.
I learned that the custom of imposition of ashes on the foreheads of the clergy and people of the church places the church in the position of a penitent, of someone who is saying sorry for the wrongs that they have done. In a sense, Ash Wednesday is a moment for the church to “bemoan and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness” as the old prayer says. So, the imposition of ashes on the forehead is actually an act of deep humility and contrition.
Even more surprising to me, though, was how God would reveal himself to me that first Lent. Instead of fasting from something, per se, I had decided to enter into a season of intentional listening to God. I had several questions, and I was eager for answers. What was his direction for my life? Why had he just moved my family and me to Florida? How could I serve him fully and completely?
The next morning after the Ash Wednesday service, I was up and preparing for the day when all of a sudden I had a vision of my life. I had a realization that God was calling me to serve him as a priest, that all of these little nudges I had experienced in the past few months were all the gentle tug of the Holy Spirit showing me direction for my life. More specifically, I saw my life as a musician and worship leader fading away, and my life as a priest of the church increasing gradually. I was dumbfounded and shocked. And I certainly didn’t know how to tell my wife.
Ash Wednesday in 2009 began a beautiful journey that I’m still on. I couldn’t have planned a better life. I hope this year’s observance will be similarly meaningful for you. And I hope that together we’ll follow the Holy Spirit as he leads us into the desert to face our fears, our unworthiness, and our desperation for God only to have our deep need met by him in his abundant goodness and love.