Ash Wednesday kicks of Lent in just a few days. I didn’t grow up with any awareness of Lent, the 40-day season preceding Easter observed by many Way-farers for nearly two millennia. In my ‘low church’ Baptist, Pentecostal, and Presbyterian upbringings, it just wasn’t a thing we did.
But last year, I was positively hungry for this season of letting go and preparation. It had been 27 days since my mom died, and even less time since something (improbably enough) equally disruptive occurred, the pair of devastating events shaking me to my core.
I was driving through the densely-foliaged, sloping road to drop something off (I forget what) at 15 Overbrook Place, the community hub shared between Land of the Sky and Circle of Mercy, my faith community. Land of the Sky’s pastor, my friend Sara Wilcox, happened to be on her way back to the building, from one of her legendary runs.
“You want some ashes?” she asked me, mid-run, when I called her about the key code to the building. There had been a drive-by ‘imposition of ashes’ earlier that day, pandemic-style, between our two congregations. I had missed that, but Sara — who knew of the troubles I recently endured — really wanted to smudge me.
And so I waited, lying on the floor of the church library, contemplating the hell of the previous month.
Remember, O Mortal, that thou art dust…
LENT IS A TIME OF ACKNOWLEDGING that we come open-handed to life, preparing ourselves by subtraction to be embraced by the energies of Christ’s resurrection:
In time and eternity, in the ordinary and the numinous, in us and as us, through us and around us.
As I laid on that church library floor, I found strange phrases lighting up my sorrow, and deepening my joy…
“Tempus Edax Rerum,” the t-shirt I wore ‘happened’ to read.
“Time, devourer of all things.”
At first blush, this seems a succinct echo of what is traditionally said as the ashes are imposed by stained hands across the planet:
“Remember, human, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
But in the former, from the first-century Latin poet Ovid, I hear unforgiving entropy, sweetened perhaps by the great equalizer of annihilation and little else.
In the latter, a Latin liturgy of somewhat-more recent vintage (echoing ancient Hebrew poetry), I hear an equal affirmation of finitude, but with something added:
All of this points me to a final strange utterance — ‘Trogoautoegocrat.’
”I eat myself to maintain myself.”
What in the world is this all about? Here we see a cosmic principle suggested: the Law of Reciprocal Feeding.
Whether observed in what we aptly call ‘the food chain‘ in nature or noticed in how a glance from someone we care about can either fill us up or seemingly suck all the oxygen from a room, everything feeds on everything else; everything is food.
Either consciously or unconsciously, mutual nourishment is how the entire Universe, the Great Chain of Being, is maintained — and indeed, how we (individually and collectively) gain energy or lose it.
Jesus speaks, in several contexts, of what it means to participate in this reciprocal feeding:
“The same measure with which you mete to others will be measured back to you…This is my body, given for you; eat this in remembrance of me…Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in them.” (Matthew 7:2; Luke 22:19; John 6:56.)
And so in each moment, we are faced with a choice:
‘Tempus edax rerum’ or ‘Memento mori’?
Will we let time devour us, passively, or will we endeavor remember ourselves and the Mystery that entangles us all, with great intentionality?
The choice we make with how we spend each day is between unconsciousness and energetic heart-burn, or remorse of conscience, gratitude, and truly digesting our lives, knowing more of ourselves with more of ourselves.
This past year, I have suffered much.
And I’m increasingly aware of how I’ve brought suffering to others’ doors — always with the ‘best of intentions,’ of course.
Sara arrived to our church building right on time, glowing from her mountain jaunt. I stood before her, masked, as she crossed me, compassion twinkling in her tough, Enneagram-8 eyes.
She alluded to the original Lenten language, with a cosmic, benevolent twist:
“Remember that you are stardust, and to stardust you return.”
In the days that followed, what had I been doing to ‘observe Lent’? Ha!
Lately, I feel like Lent is observing me.
And so as we approach yet another Ash Wednesday, I wish to allow this season its magic: remembering that I’m dust, after all, and celestial, too: feeling my own great return, connected with Christ and cosmos, sweetness and strife, peace and pain.
I would be wounded; and I would wound.
I would be consumed for love; and I would consume.
I would be begotten; and I would beget.
I would eat; and I would be eaten.
Mercy to us all.
Want help in having a meaningful Lent?
Then I highly recommend this affordable (pay-whatever-you-can) Lenten online course hosted by my friends, spiritual historian Diana Butler-Bass and theological podcaster extraordinaire, Tripp Fuller.
Jesus de/constructed explores the kenotic grace of letting go of religious ideas that no longer serve, to make room for a fresh encounter with the living, revolutionary Jesus today. Here’s what will be under discussion each week:
SESSION 1: De/Constructing Jesus & the Lenten Journey What does it mean to take up the Lenten journey when Jesus may come with more baggage than blessings and occasions bigger questions than confidence? As we kick off this class we want to get honest about the baggage and the questions Jesus brings and explore what Lent looks like when they aren’t silenced or erased.
SESSION 2: The Consequences of C.S. Lewis’ Worst Idea In this session we will explore the why ‘Lord, Liar, or Lunatic’ is neither Biblical, historical, good theology, or even helpful for framing the call of discipleship.
SESSION 3: From Executed Prophet to Cosmic Christ The history of the church is full of people and communities attempting to testify to their encounter with God in Christ. By surveying the diversity of voices we can find allies and inspiration as we wrestle the question Jesus asked, “who do you say I am?”
There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all Jesus and yet many of us have left (or been pushed) out of the church because we couldn’t in good conscience stay in the JC-box we were handed. In this session we will explore just what to do with Jesus on the other side of the religion industrial complex.
SESSION 5: Jesus Christ the same Yesterday, Today, and For Ever? Many of us click the ‘it’s complicated’ button when it comes to our relationship with Jesus. While there was one Jesus in history, we end up meeting many more along our way – each with its own character and style. In this session we will reckon with the many-sided prism of Jesus we have encountered and what it could mean to embrace the multitude of Jesuses woven in our story.
SESSION 6: De/constructed Jesus & the Journey of Holy Week For this last week, we will explore the movement of Holy Week and the invitation it gives to meet Jesus and encounter the Christ again. Too often this story is retold to silence our questions and rebuff our doubts, but it is so much more and we want to unpack it together.
Further Resources for a Fruitful Lent:
A version of this reflection was originally published on February 25, 2021.