Saturday, March 12, 2011

"You are Dust, and to Dust You Shall Return."

Lent began this Wednesday and I began my fast. I'm proud of myself for following the guidelines I set for myself for the fast, but then again, it's only been four days. The trick will be to not pig out tomorrow and then to pick up the fast for another six days. If I get through the next week, I think I will make it through til Easter.

I know if I slip, I risk not getting back into it. I'm the sort who needs to abide the rules or not have them at all. So far, hunger isn't the problem; turning down food (especially if it's homemade) from other people is. Generations of Southerners are whispering in my head, "That's so rude not to accept!" And I don't mind feeling awkward not eating while others are, but I don't want to make them awkward, and I'm not quite sure how to ease their worries that I'm quite alright.

For the second part of my Lent participation this year, I want to read the New Testament. All of it, straight through, which I'm sad to say I haven't done. I'm sadder to say I haven't started yet, but perhaps I will tomorrow after church while I munch on some chocolate.

I don't like that Lent is optional or non-existent to most Christians. Sure, it's not as fun as Christmas, but I think any faith needs a time/ritual of humility, sacrifice, deep reflection. I'm not forcing anything by being so strict about Lent this year, but I am opening myself to learn something. I think too many people gloss over the heavier parts of Christianity for the easier and more socially acceptable parts. But a few days of penitence and deep conversations wouldn't hurt anyone. There is nothing sinful in not doing so, but it's like eating vanilla ice cream when you could add chocolate syrup and have a sundae; the basics are still there, but there is a richness missing.

The Ash Wednesday service is one of my favorite services all year (along with Maundy Thursday, so I guess I like gloomy services as much as I like gloomy weather). I like getting marked with the ashes of last year's palm leaves. Though it is a depressing reminder of mortality ("You are dust..."), there is something uplifting about it. Christianity is a faith of receiving grace and life that you as a mere, sinning human never come close to deserving. A sign of penitence and humility is the most you can do, and yet it is not particularly required nor is it enough. That's a facet of the faith I think people miss. It is not works or self-punishment that earn you heaven, but those that believe will want to do good things and follow rules because it is a tiny, tiny way to repaid such a big debt. Works are nothing, you are nothing, in the grand scheme of things. But you still get to participate in God's plan and get God's attention and love.

That's a pretty exciting thought on a somber holiday for this piece of dust.

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