Tag Archives: Ash Wednesday

The Lent Project

I’ve been very honored to be a part of the initiatives coming out of the new Biola University Center for Christianity, Culture & the Arts, which launched at Biola back in September. In December the CCCA produced a wonderful online devotional series for Advent called “The Advent Project,” which offered daily liturgical reflections on art, music and Scripture. Last week we launched “The Lent Project,” which will mirror the style of the Advent Project.

I wrote the first devotional for Ash Wednesday, which you can read here. Here’s an excerpt:

For me Ash Wednesday symbolizes, rather neatly, what it means to be a Christian. It’s not about being beautiful or powerful or triumphant; it’s about being scarred and humble and sacrificial. This is not to say it’s about defeat, despair or self-flagellation. On the contrary, to “give up” or “sacrifice” in the name of Christ is (or should be) the height of our joy. Suffering is not something to shrink from. Giving ourselves away to others is our calling. Dying to ourselves is our glorious inheritance.

“Whoever loses his life for My sake will find it,” said Jesus (Matt. 16:25). “To live is Christ and to die is gain,” wrote Paul (Phil. 1:21).

We should strive to be like Christ, “who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame…” (Hebrews 12:2).

For the joy set before him… That should be why we endure suffering and embrace self-denial. It’s paradoxical and mysterious and counterintuitive — certainly. But when I feel the cold ashes spread across my forehead on Ash Wednesday, it makes some sort of wonderful sense.

Check out the full Lent Project at http://ccca.biola.edu/lent/ and click on the RSS button at the bottom if you’d like to subscribe to the daily devotionals.

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Ash Wednesday Prayer Requests

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Lord, bring us to our knees. Quiet our hearts.

Away from the onslaught of screens and tweets and texts, focus our eyes on you.

Abide in our perceptions, as we taste and see and hear that you are good.

In the stillness of dusk, on ever lengthening days; serenaded by car horns, engines, buzzing iPhones, birds, distant planes, and the mystical fugues of February vespers… speak to us oh God.

Remove us from ourselves. Help us to dismiss our notions of grandeur and relinquish our litany of self-appointed rights: that we deserve jobs, freedom and low gas prices; that our social updates deserve to be paid attention to; that the world revolves around us; that we can do with our bodies what we fancy; that the chief end of life is our own individual happiness.

Remove us from ourselves Lord, and draw us closer to You. Bring us to a distance–a desert, a depth, a hunger, Sehnsucht–so that what we see of ourselves isn’t glamour and greatness, but only your grace. Only your righteousness.

Only you, in fact, for it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.

Ashes to ashes, let us deny ourselves. Let us give ourselves away rather than grab what’s ours. Let us be crucified with Christ. Let us seek the cinders, Oh God, to be crushed as you were, refined to a new fragrance.

In the darkness, in the desert, in the endless debates, let us look to resurrection. The morning is coming.

Into debt we further go. Under avalanches of paperwork, tasks, and to-dos we further sink. Against our arthritic, cancerous, flaking-away bodies we further fight. The nations wage war and the blizzards take their toll.

But Easter looms.

(Originally published in 2012)

Lenten Prayer Requests

Lord, bring us to our knees. Quiet our hearts.

Away from the onslaught of screens and tweets and texts, focus our eyes on you.

Abide in our perceptions, as we taste and see and hear that you are good.

In the stillness of dusk, on ever lengthening days; serenaded by car horns, engines, buzzing iPhones, birds, distant planes, and the mystical fugues of February vespers… speak to us oh God.

Remove us from ourselves. Help us to dismiss our notions of grandeur and relinquish our litany of self-appointed rights: that we deserve jobs, freedom and low gas prices; that our social updates deserve to be paid attention to; that the world revolves around us; that we can do with our bodies what we fancy; that the chief end of life is our own individual happiness.

Remove us from ourselves Lord, and draw us closer to You. Bring us to a distance–a desert, a depth, a hunger, Sehnsucht–so that what we see of ourselves isn’t glamour and greatness, but only your grace. Only your righteousness.

Only you, in fact, for it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.

Ashes to ashes, let us deny ourselves. Let us give ourselves away rather than grab what’s ours. Let us be crucified with Christ. Let us seek the cinders, Oh God, to be crushed as you were, refined to a new fragrance.

In the darkness, in the desert, in the endless debates, let us look to resurrection. The morning is coming.

Into debt we further go. Under avalanches of paperwork, tasks, and to-dos we further sink. Against our arthritic, cancerous, flaking-away bodies we further fight. The nations wage war and the blizzards take their toll. The groundhog saw his shadow.

But Easter looms.

Ashes, Ashes, We All Fall Down

I was in Panera one night last week—which is where I am a lot of nights these days—writing on my laptop and listening to music in my headphones. Panera is not the hippest place to be writing a book about hipsters, but I like it because 1) it has free wifi, 2) it is about a block from my house, and 3) there are no pretentious people there. Just a lot of soccer moms, knitting groups, retirees and college students.

Anyway, as I was sitting there this night, I had this moment where all I could think about was the end of “The Weight of Glory,” when C.S. Lewis is talking about the “glory” of our neighbor, and how we should feel the burden of the fact that all people are either going to be glory-filled in heaven or gloriously hideous in hell, and that “all day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations.”

I was looking around Panera, listening to The Books / Jose Gonzalez’ cover of “Cello Song,” and I had one of those moments where something sort of obvious just hits you.

“There are no ordinary people,” Lewis says. “You have never talked to a mere mortal.”

The stakes are high. We cannot look flippantly on a human life—even strangers or enemies or the annoying people who sing too loudly and demonstratively in church. Whether we like it or not, all of these people are holy beings. As Lewis reminds us, “Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.”

Why is it so hard for us to remember this? It made me sad in Panera, looking around at all these people, recognizing that each one is a miracle, someone God created, and yet I so often live my life in the opposite way—caring little about strangers and actively avoiding the burden of my neighbor’s immortality. It’s certainly easier to find reasons to be annoyed by people, to avoid contact with those who are not like us. It’s definitely not the easiest thing in the world to look past the failings of people and love them in spite of it all.

But that’s exactly what we must do. We have to realize that we are all frail, hurting humans, in need of the same grace.

It’s a thought that seems especially appropriate today, on Ash Wednesday, the first day of the 40-day Lenten period in which we quiet ourselves in repentance, renewal and reflection in advance of Easter.

I love Ash Wednesday, because it is a day that is so much about the universal frailty and fallen-ness of man. We are all in this together, all in need of the humbling salvation of the cross. At my church and at many churches worldwide today, Christians will come together for worship, prayer, and the imposition of ashes. This part I love. An ash-marked cross on one’s forehead is a very strange thing to see (especially in a town as vain and airbrushed as L.A.), but it is beautiful. What a fantastic symbol of what Lent is all about: our coming into a focused, reverential meditation upon and solidarity with the suffering of Christ.

Ash Wednesday is a day that reminds us that while we all are physically finite, deteriorating creatures, we are also beautiful, immortal beings created for a greatness and glory we can hardly even fathom. All humans have this in common. We all fall down; We all fall sort. We are all in need of God’s grace. Every single one of us.