REVELATIONS column: We are all dust
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When I was growing up, my family never celebrated Lent. I guess I'm not entirely surprised. We belonged to the Church of C&E - Christmas and Easter - so we didn't really discuss seasons of spiritual preparation.
That's not to say we never acknowledged the Easter season. We did. But our celebrations were more of the secular variety.
Because my birthday always fell near Easter, many of my birthday parties were often Easter-inspired. And Mom always made sure her children were well prepared for Easter Sunday with frilly dresses and ornate Easter baskets. We dyed eggs and decorated the house with Easter figurines, and Dad made sure we went to church Sunday morning to see a performance of Christ's death and resurrection.
It was a beloved time of year; a time with family and friends and great food. But looking back, I just never remember correlating Easter (or the days leading up to it) with a solemn religious observance.
My nominal faith, lack of church attendance, and secular understanding of Christmas and Easter as a child, revealed to me as an adult how little I knew about Christianity.
I'm not sure I even knew what Lent was until a few years ago when I became a believer.
And as my faith and knowledge of Christianity matured, the liturgical traditions of the church became more familiar. The more I changed my life, the more I read and researched the traditions of Christianity, including its historical origins and methods of practice in different denominations.
I adopted some and ignored others, and allowed myself to ponder whether they were church-enforced or God-enforced, and how the traditions aligned with my salvation.
I'd ask myself, for instance, "Does wearing a dress and high heels to church on Sunday mean that I love and honor God more than the woman who arrives in jeans and sneakers?"
Or, "By not participating in holy communion, does that mean I'll miss an opportunity to commune with God, and find restoration for past wrongs?"
I continue to ask myself questions like these on a daily basis, covering a variety of topics. But it occurred to me this week at an Ash Wednesday service, that I never sought to personally understand or reconcile with God the importance of the Lenten season. I'm not sure why it never occurred to me.
Since I covered Ash Wednesday for the Advocate this year, I was invited to attend an evening service at Christ the Victor Lutheran Church.
And as I watched the Rev. Amy Danchik mark the foreheads of the faithful, I considered for the first time if I was missing out on a needed season of spiritual preparation before Easter. The Lenten season isn't a biblically required practice, it's merely a time to reflect on Jesus' death and resurrection, and honor him through spiritual and physical sacrifice. But it's the holiest holiday in the faith, even though Christmas tends to get all the attention.
At church that night, I allowed myself to receive the ashes from Pastor Amy, more out of respect for her and the congregation beginning their Lenten season. But when I returned home from work that night, I stared at the ashes on my forehead in the mirror. In that quiet moment in front of the mirror, I was reminded how beautiful it was to be reminded that we are dust, and to dust we will return. I was reminded how beautiful it is to remind ourselves that our journey with God begins in death, after we are ashes in the ground.
I was also reminded how often I refuse to give all of myself to the Lord, and discount the bigger picture of what God has called me to do: Live for him, love others and never forget that my breath is temporary.
We are only here for a short time, and then we return to dust. But that's where the real journey begins. So thanks, Amy, and the members of Christ the Victor for reminding me of my own mortality and the necessity of spiritual preparedness. I think this Easter may have a whole new meaning for me, and I'm looking forward to seeing how my eyes and heart are opened during Lent this year.
Jennifer Preyss is a reporter for the Victoria Advocate. You can reach her at 361-580-6535 or firstname.lastname@example.org.