Reflection: A time to let go
Ash Wednesday: fasting and ashes, they're not really part of our everyday lifestyle today are they?
Or are they?
Maybe not self inflicted, maybe not a chosen part of our lives, but a part they are!
We do know times of fasting, times of deep hunger in our hearts, times of going without, when we lose something or someone precious - partner, child, health, employment, respect, and so on - they are times of fasting indeed.
And ashes- who has not known the bitterness of a dream turned to ashes, the sour taste, the acrid smell when it all goes wrong.
So, because this is already so much part of our experience - without having to add to it or force it - perhaps we should not make Lent a time of new, self-imposed restrictions and going without, but instead use this season to acknowledge the Lenten times and experiences we all do have in our lives.
For some of us this Lent, we are already experiencing great losses in our lives – of health, of a beloved family member. And for some of us Lent will come at a time we are already experiencing great grief and remorse. We acknowledge that reality here tonight in the presence of a loving God.
I also acknowledge that for those of you for whom sorrow, and ashes are already very much present, the traditional call of Lent to self-denial, to give something else up must seem like a slap in the face.
So let's try a different approach .Maybe instead when life is already hard, Lent becomes a time for us to stay still, to look gently, but honestly at our losses, at the fasts that already exist in our lives, to try to see these things - hesitantly, slowly, for Lent is a long time- to try to see these circumstances and the feelings they bring, in the light of the love we have known of God.
For others of us life will continue smoothly this Lent - we will be and feel blessed.
Yet for those of us for whom life is going well, Lent calls on us also, to remember, to accept, that lean times will come, that lean times are not a punishment but part of the seasons of our life, part of our growth and our journey with God.
Like it or not autumn does follow summer: by the time Easter comes autumn will be our reality here in the Southern hemisphere. And winter cold and barrenness will follow autumn. Lent comes as a reminder that the warmth of summer will end.
May it also help us learn that God is with us in all the seasons of our lives.
That God is a God of emptiness as well as fullness, of struggle as well as smoothness.
I wonder if God offers us times of emptiness, times of letting go, perhaps to make room for us to grow. Much as a loving parent lets go of their toddler's hand to encourage them to walk.
Sometimes it's a scary process, sometimes our lives are swept frighteningly bare through circumstances beyond our control.
Other times , in our comfort zones, the midst of our abundance, if we dare listen, we hear God's still small voice asking us to throw away some of the clutter in our lives. To let go of things both shameful and precious. It isn't easy. But for me it is a key to the meaning of Lent. Not so much a time to give up things, but a time to let go of things -of expectations, of attitudes, both precious and destructive. Letting them go into the mystery that is God.
When we acknowledge that what was important to us in the past is now to become ashes, that is a courageous Lenten act of letting go and an act of true disciple ship
I invite you to take a minute or two in silence to ask yourself, to ask God .What do I need to let go of at this time? It may be something you are glad to let go of – maybe a responsibility or a task that you no longer have energy or time to continue with – maybe memories, guilt or shame that you have held onto for far too long. What will be a relief to surrender?
What might be a real struggle to part with? Maybe a cherished hope that has not come to fruition? A person? A habit? Something that if you let it go may completely change your life.
And if you wish, jot these things down on your paper leaf. Soon you can bring those leaves up and burn them to ashes. Take some time to think, pray and write
Take heart in the words of Meister Eckhart: There, where clinging to things ends, is where God begins.
One last thing : Let us also remember that ashes aren't the end of the story. Just as Lent ends in Easter, so too, ashes, as fertiliser bring about new life and growth. Our emptiness makes room for God's new fullness.