The Approach of Ashes

I suspect for many of us, by now those well-intended New Year’s resolutions are something of a distant memory.  Oh sure, we promised that we would do all kinds of things around the house or at work, and other sorts of things for our outsides and our insides, but the truth is that unless we were very motivated, we were probably going to fail at these things, and forget about them.  At the present time my inboxes, for example, are powerful evidence of this all-too-human tendency.

For Christians of course, we get a second chance – arguably – starting in a couple of weeks with the season of Lent.  Many of us will give up things we enjoy, or take on certain spiritual practices, for the forty days of penance and fasting beginning February 22nd, the date of Ash Wednesday this year, and continuing through April 6th, i.e. Good Friday.  The idea is that the new life which we celebrate at the commemoration of Christ’s Resurrection on Easter Sunday is something we can prepare ourselves for, so that we turn away from sin and have a new appreciation for the life we have been given and for the hope of the Resurrection as well.

That being said, Lent is not New Year’s 2.0.  God probably does not care how you look in a bikini, so Lent is not necessarily the best time to begin a diet and exercise program.  However, with a little creative thinking and planning, many virtues can be combined through unexpected means.  Giving up Facebook for Lent as a sacrifice of something you enjoy is fine, for example, but giving up Facebook AND using the free time you’ve gained to better connect with friends and family in the real world is even better – like a two-for-one special.

Mardi Gras, or “Fat Tuesday”, the day before Ash Wednesday, is two weeks from today.  There will be many things between now and then to distract us from this fact.  For those of us in the Nation’s Capital, the Conservative Political Action Conference starts this week and runs through the weekend.  There is also St. Valentine’s Day, the President’s Day holiday weekend, Oscar parties, and so on, which do a good job at keep our minds off of winter weather, but perhaps not such a good job at reminding us of the spiritual importance of the approach of Lent as a time of ashes and sackcloth, and of renewal.

So before you get too caught up in this whirlwind of activity leading into March, gentle reader, it may be a good time for you to sit down and think about where you are headed in your life. Drawing closer to God is something which all Christians seek to do, and Lent is the perfect time in which to do it.  Pausing to reflect on how you may do that between now and Easter, perhaps even talking about it with your friends and family so that you all have goals for the season, may make it more likely that you actually achieve those goals.  Football season and movie awards season will pass away, but your immortal soul will not – and it deserves just as much, indeed, more of your attention.

Detail of “The Return of the Prodigal Son” by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (c. 1667-1670)
National Gallery of Art, Washington

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