Ashed

This morning, I did an exceptionally British and Anglican thing:
I was 3 minutes late for the Ash Wednesday service I’d planned to go to, so I didn’t go in – just in case I looked foolish.

(My flatmate got up an hour earlier than usual and was in the shower when I got up. Then a lost tourist asked me for directions…)

Utterly ridiculous, but in retrospect, a good thing.

For one week only, Wednesday was a study day, not a working day, and I’d decided to make the most of it by attending an Ash Wednesday service at a church I’d never been to before. [Also, my church doesn’t have one, but I’m rather fond of the tradition. This would be yet another example of my excellent, high church Methodist upbringing…]

Having missed the 8.30am eucharist with ash at St James’s Piccadilly, I decided to stick around in the area and get on with my work until the 1.05pm service. As a direct result of this decision, I had a very productive 3-4hours of studying (Amos and Hosea essay notes are very, very nearly done) in a lovely Starbucks and the giant Waterstones (always good to have a change of scenery in between books), knowing that I had a set end time. After all, I didn’t want to be late again.

It was a good decision. No, an excellent one. I was at a table studying far earlier than I would have been at home (8.40am); I didn’t get distracted by household chores; and most importantly, I didn’t give up on my plan to get ashed.

AshedBrilliantly, I’d taken this before I realised that #ashtagselfie had become a thing this year.

For the unfamiliar, as a way of marking the start of Lent, on Ash Wednesday, the previous year’s palm crosses are burnt, mixed with oil and used to make a cross on the foreheads of those at the service – known as the ‘imposition of the ashes’. As the ashes are imposed, the following words are spoken:

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ.”

No, it’s not the cheeriest bit of liturgy, but it’s important. As we all know, life isn’t all joy and laughter. We get things wrong; stuff goes badly; we don’t understand why – we are dust and to dust we shall return… Lent is a season of remembering this; of being penitent of our sins; and remembering the importance of Christ’s death and resurrection.

A lot of Christians get a little over excited about Lent. Social media becomes full of people declaring what they’re giving up (especially if they’re fasting social media itself, I’ve ranted about that one before); what books they’re going to be reading; or what good deeds they’re going to be taking on. I sometimes wonder if we make too much noise about it – after all, isn’t our fasting meant to be done in humbleness? Or perhaps it’s just many people’s way of being accountable and marking Lent in solidarity with others?

Lent has been a long time in coming this year (hello, Easter on almost the latest date it can be in the year…) so we’ve had plenty of time to work out our plan for it. So, as a means of staying accountable, here’s mine:

  • Read the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent book. Obviously, this decision was in no way influenced by the fact that the author of the book (Graham Tomlin, Dean of St Mellitus College) gave me a signed copy back in December…
  • Give up chocolate. I’ve NEVER done this for Lent before (I gave up meat for years, chocolate always seemed too obvious) and I know it’s the archetypal Lenten fast, but I suddenly decided yesterday that it would be a good thing. Partly because it’s a go-to comfort when I probably ought to be praying; but also because I’m preaching on fasting in a few week’s time and I figured I ought to practice what I preach – literally.

As a season, it’s a pretty important time for me. Academic deadlines are looming (two big pieces before March is out); decisions need to be made regarding curacies (this may be the root of my current emotional connection to chocolate); and by the end of Lent there will only be a few short weeks left of Vicar School. I get the feeling that Lent 2014 is going to be a time of preparation in several, rather important, ways!

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