Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. Traditionally, Lent allowed people to participate in the 40 day fast of Jesus in the wilderness - offered an opportunity for people to explore their own wilderness, their own privation, face their own temptations and wrestle with how to bring God's world into being. The "ash" harkens back to the Old Testament practice of throwing ashes over one's head to signify repentance. (Traditionally, the ash for this specific occasion is made by burning the palms from the previous palm Sunday - perhaps connecting us with a failure to make Jesus our Lord, the way we promised then, fawning after the entrance of our triumphal King.)
"40 days," throughout the Bible, is a phrase which means "a really long time." Sort of like us saying "it took a million years to get to the Mall yesterday" - it is an expression, not a specifically quantifiable period of time. Our intentional living should also be a really long time. But we're human, right, so it's better to give us a round figure we can put on our calendars: 40 days - February 21 to April 1. Sacrifice for forty days, resurrection at the end, and it's back to normal again? Perhaps. But, then again, resurrection is a change, isn't it? Something's gotta be different. But what?
I spent a few hours this week preparing a Lenten candle - one of those tall votive candles that usually have a haloed Saint or flaming-hearted Jesus on it. This one was blank, until I wrote on it the lectionary texts that stood out for me from this last week and the next. I suppose I'll light it tonight at sundown.
My Lent has begun - I have promised to drive the speed limit, and to spend the extra time that takes and the reduction in stress to meditate on how I can better bring about the Reign of God in our world. 40 days of turtle-driving. I'll need your prayers for help.
And I'll also try to do the daily meditations, although less strictly (I almost said "less religiously", but caught myself). ;-) I suppose Lent will be "a long time of catching myself."