Raking through the ashes: Living the Lenten journey

Take off your sandals, you are on holy ground! (Ex 3:5)

In its various moments, the liturgical year celebrates nothing other than the fullness of this mystery of walking continuously on holy ground in the company of the saints who walked the pilgrim way of Christ. It has its centre in the annual Easter, everything springs from it and everything tends to it. Christian spirituality is a paschal spirituality, that is, a spirituality polarized by the divine event of salvation, by the paschal mystery lived by Christ and celebrated memorially by the Church.
The imposition of ashes at the beginning of Lent is always a very poignant moment: ‘Repent and believe in the Gospel’. Ashes and fire are two images which accompany me during the Lenten journey. On Ash Wednesday, the burnt palms, symbol of the joy and majesty which accompanied Jesus during his entrance into Jerusalem, are now ashes placed on my forehead…the liturgical cycle continues! I remember often raking out the fire at home and finding cinders among the dust and ashes which were still glowing, the fire could be re-lit from these burning cinders. Yes, during Lent, I acknowledge that ‘I am dust and to dust I will return’, yet I acknowledge that through the greatness and mercy of God, He can rake through the ashes of my life and find those burning cinders, that small spark which can be fanned into the Paschal fire which will herald Christ the Light, the Resurrected Lord, during the Easter Vigil.

Preparing the ashes from the palms from Palm Sunday
Lent is my continuous exodus towards the Promised Land where I take off my sandals and feel the cold, naked yet solid ground beneath my feet. I stand on sacred ground where I take the time to do a reality check:  I am the created one before the Creator, the one who is sick before the Doctor of souls, the one who is poor who appeals to the one who is Richness, the one who thirsts coming to the Wellspring, the blind seeking the Light, the friend who goes to the True Friend, the lost sheep sought out by the Shepherd, the nothing who finds all. Above all, I am a sinner in need of God’s mercy. Too often, we dilute the gravity of sin because we fear that we will put people out of their comfort zones. Sin is serious precisely because it is the complete contrary of the Incarnation. The Incarnation of Jesus is the bridge between Heaven and earth, our link to the Father. Every time, ‘I’ become the centre of my life, I weaken that bridge, it becomes unsteady. When I sin, I remain on one side, Jesus on the other- God’s mercy through the Sacrament of Reconciliation reconstructs the bridge! In that space, I am obliged to look at my humanity, my vulnerability, my weakness: yes, I am a sinner in need of God’s mercy and this allows me to sing the ‘Miserere’ and the ‘Magnificat’ together.

During this Lenten journey, I am aware that I continue the journey of the Exodus people. In the Old Testament, ancient Israel’s four decades in the desert were not simply a time of aimless wandering, of pointless movement. The people were on a journey to enter into covenant with God. The desert is the place of remembrance and of promise: “Remember Israel: we need to be reminded because spiritual amnesia is rampant! “I am with you and will protect over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”(Gen 28, 15). Therefore as I walk, I renew my covenant to let God mould my life and trust that Jesus is waiting in the desert for me (Gen 28:16) for He too will undergo his temptations and emerge victorious because of his unconditional trust in God’s will for Him.

And after the desert? It is time to accompany Jesus on the journey to Jerusalem. We live in faith, the assurance of things hoped for (Heb 1:1). With our eyes fixed on God and God's promises, we can maintain the strength of heart, of mind, and of will to continue walking towards Jerusalem without fear. This means renewing my commitment to participate in the mystery of death and Resurrection- nothing more, nothing less! I walk on with hope for hope comes from God, striving not to lose heart, since we carry the death of Jesus in our bodies, so that through us his life might be made visible.

(written for Sacred Space blog last year).