Today is Ash Wednesday.
In Western churches, today is the formal start of Lent, the solemn season of preparation for Easter. Orthodox Lent, by contrast, doesn’t start until 15 March.
Traditionally, Lent focuses on two things – fasting and prayer. Fasting in the sense of restricting what you eat, rather than simply eating nothing. Sticking to simpler food: reducing meat, dairy products, avoiding alcohol, spices.
Lots of modern folks have turned this into “giving something up for Lent”, but the point of fasting is twofold – a voluntary simplicity that refines the heart and shifting the attention from the senses to the interior
… which brings us to prayer. Fasting is really a preparation and foundation for more stable prayer (or meditation). Lent is a time to turn focus inward to spend more time, each day, sending “longing darts of love” (as the Cloud of Unknowing puts it) towards your inner sense of God.
These seasons, if we use them, help us find time in a life of busyness to emphasise spiritual practice. Our tradition assures us that our human life finds its fruition in Union with God, however it’s easy to keep putting off the work we might need to do to reach that state.
If you were in church today to receive the eponymous ashen cross for which Ash Wednesday is named, you’d hear the priest say, “Remember that dust you are, and to dust you shall return” – you don’t have forever. Time is short and we know neither the day nor the hour.
So… I want to encourage you to take some time during Lent (whichever calendar you use) to turn toward the Divine source, to open your heart, softly, with love and allow the process of metanoia to continue and deepen in you.
A blessed Ash Wednesday to you!