Marking The Seasons of the Christian Life: A Meditation on Ash Wednesday

Spring is coming.

It’s inevitable and, somehow, it’s happening at the beginning of March – but spring is most assuredly coming.  The lower temperatures are steadily creeping up, and the trees in my neighborhood have formed tight little buds.  I saw squirrels out all last week, and the orioles have returned to perch in the trees outside our house.  There are tadpoles swimming in all the ponds.

Long ago, those seasons served as a guide for when to plant, when to harvest, when to store.  The shift of weather, the change in daylight: all of those things mattered deeply to people whose lives depended on the success and growth of crops and livestock.  Now, removed from those things, we – with our greenhouses and our industrial farms, with our internet and our electricity – can afford to pay significantly less attention to them.

But the seasons still matter.

And so do seasons in the spiritual life.  I am thinking, of course, of Ash Wednesday, and the Lenten season to follow: occasions approached by fellow Christians with anything from solemn reverence to a giant shrug.  I wanted to take a moment today to write about why they have come to matter to me in particularly, and why this “marking of the seasons” in the Christian life can be useful and beneficial.

I didn’t always celebrate this time of the year; I used to be content to wait until Easter.  Give me all the ups and downs of the cross and the resurrection in one week, thank you. It felt a lot like Christmas in that regard.  But when I started attending my local church, and discovered that the congregation there marked Ash Wednesday and considered it the start of an intense period of prayer and worship leading up to Easter, I became more involved.

For me, the turning of the seasons in Christian life functions the same way the turning of the natural seasons do: it’s a reminder to shift focus, to regather my thoughts, to start anew.  It’s a reminder that there is “a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3:4).  The use of a particular occasion to mark that turn is a reminder, a gentle nudge in the proper direction.

I am a proud member of the whatever works to get you closer to God school of Christian practice.  If you feel closest to Jesus banging away on a snare drum, I hope God blesses you with immeasurable drumsticks and tolerant neighbors.  If you find your spirit renewed and your desire to serve ignited by being outdoors, I wish you long and sunny days.  This principle applies to Ash Wednesday and to Lent, too: if this shift in spiritual seasons encourages you, like me, to meditate on your own life, to grow more submissive to God, to recommit, to renew your repentance and your gratitude, then it is absolutely worthy of note.

So, for those of you who mark this occasion: I hope God uses today and the rest of this season to mark your heart and your spirit in a wonderful and life-changing way.  And to those of you for whom it largely passes unnoticed, take a moment nonetheless to pray for your brothers and sisters approaching the season with great hope and in all reverence.

For all of us, however we get there, Easter’s coming.

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