During February we begin a spiritual time of reflection. In many churches there will
be the occasion on Ash Wednesday to begin Lent with the imposition of ashes. This
is the lighting of the Palm crosses from last year and the placing of a cross in
ash on the forehead. Repentance and ashes are biblical, spoken of in scripture and
this is a good thing to do. It is a sign of the life of the cross, the acceptance
of all that owning that cross can bring. Through this commitment we have access to
spiritual growth and healing.
Lent is a time to be penitent and to seek God's will for our life as surely as Jesus
sought God's direction in the wilderness. We live our lives under the shadow of the
cross and this is a good time to consider what the implications of that are. It is
a time to say to God 'teach me afresh, where am I going wrong, how do you want me
In the Old Testament ashes were a sign of sorrow at having let God down they were
a demonstration of looking for the new direction and being sorry for what was in
the past. They were a sign of repentance and looking forward. The Christian response
is of course to see the new direction for us all in the cross and we make the ashes
into the sign of the cross. That is where we come to find God's forgiveness and direction
for our lives.
One of life's special gifts is that it provides us with countless experiences that
help keep things in perspective. We visit a hospital and see people enduring great
physical suffering and suddenly the fact that we have the flu doesn't seem so monumental.
We view documentaries about famine striking people all over the world and consequently
the burnt toast is not catastrophic. We read news of whole societies suffering under
repressive dictatorships, and the need to obey a 30mph speed limit over the bumps
down the High Street does not so much fray our nerves.
People with wealth and influence die and are cremated. Power, ambition, worries,
hassles, manipulations, and posturing are all reduced to a carton of ashes. The point
of citing this is not to make us morbid, but to prompt us to reflect. Lent begins
with ashes, because ashes can put things into perspective. On Ash Wednesday, we acknowledge
our mortality, that all things will pass, and that we too will pass. None of us is
indispensable. Family goes on, the economy goes one, the job goes on-life will go
on, without us.
"You are dust, and to dust you shall return" (Genesis 3:19).
Lent is a time to reflect on matters that we might not reflect on at other times
of the year. It is a time for putting things back into perspective, for taking a
good look at ourselves, at what we have become, and at what we are doing with our
lives. Ashes provide us with a perspective about what counts and what doesn't. Ashes
also inform us that our time is limited and that we should take advantage of the
time we have left to continue our spiritual development.
We welcome Lent, therefore, with ashes for the opportunities it will afford us to
clear our vision and reset our sights. We have much to do before we turn to dust.
Lent is a time for tough questions. Where are you going in life? What are you doing
with yourself? What kind of priorities do you live by? What changes should you need
to make to ensure a more worthwhile life for yourself? What should you become more
serious about? Less serious about? Are you preoccupied and overly concerned with
trivia? Do you get angry over petty things? Do you lose sleep over matters that have
little lasting import? Do you need to push yourself more on worthwhile projects?
Do you need to slow down? Think in terms of ashes and see if it doesn't change your
A Poem: 'The thread'
Something is very gently
invisibly, silently, pulling at me—
a thread or net of threads
finer than cobwebs and as elastic.
I haven't tried the strength of it.
hook pierced and tore me.
Was it not long ago this thread
began to draw me?
Was I born with its knot about my neck,
but a stirring of
makes me catch my breath
when I feel the tug of it
when I thought it had loosened
itself and gone.
Rev’d Canon Stuart Ansell