Lent 101

The Rite of Continuing Conversation—where candidates descend upon the heart of the diocese, filling the cathedral and armed with those supporting them. We were recognized individually, the bishop smiling as each was called by name. He welcomed us all, not simply into the cathedral for the hour-long service but into the very Church itself. As my sponsor put his arm around me, confirming my own dedication to the Church, I was filled with the overwhelming sense of belonging to something so much bigger than myself.

There’s no mistake that this Rite occurs at the start of Lent. It was a rough start to the new liturgical season: not merely with fasting, though that was a challenge in itself, but emotionally. Spiritually. “What can you give to those who have not?” the Church asks. “What is the Lord inviting you to give away?” These simple questions remind us of how much more we can do. Relatively speaking, it’s easy to drop a check in the collection basket. Money is merely a number in an unseen bank account. But what else can we do? How can we give of our time, our talents, our possessions? It’s much harder to joyfully share these things when we think we “need” them ourselves.

This is where I fall short. “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” I felt the severity of a life without Him as I received the ashes for the first time. It’s fitting that this is the first occasion I get out of the pew to receive: not His body, not yet. But dust. I receive nothing. But in that nothingness, I recall something more—in my weakness is where God fills in the gaps. I was hungry, but He sustained me. Next time I rise to receive, it will be to receive Him.

Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer, you shall cry for help, and he will say, “Here I am!” —Isaiah 58:9

I was feeling pretty crummy about all those shortcomings of mine. I was deep into the understanding of my sin, crying out to Him because of my imperfections. But then, on a cold but beautifully sunny Saturday morning, He gathered His people together. I watched the procession, conscious of all those people there supporting our journeys, and I was awed. Not merely in the beauty of tradition, but also for being a part of it. The fact that God, in His infinite power and glory and love, would want someone imperfect like me. I may have cried, but I cried for an entirely different reason.