Five days ago was Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten season. Lent is a time for the Church to repent and prepare for Holy Week, forty days (excluding Sundays) of penitence before Resurrection Sunday.

This Ash Wednesday was the first one I ever observed. The staff and elders of our church have decided to follow more intentionally the Church Year (Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week, Pentecost, and Ordinary Time). I have acquired a deep love for the Church Calendar over the past couple of years, especially due to my revolutionary encounter with the Book of Common Prayer. But to be honest, I was a bit leery of Ash Wednesday because of my interaction with it, albeit small, in the past. All I can remember is a bunch of my Catholic friends coming to school on a certain day with a black mark on their foreheads, complaining about having to eat fish until Easters. This year, however, I decided to give it a chance.

Not blindly, of course. I looked into the history of Ash Wednesday and discovered its roots in Jewish tradition, ashes for repentance and mourning, and the Christian church's adoption of applying ashes to the foreheads of believers as a symbol of repentance from sin and turning to Christ. Not to mention we are a marked people, set apart for the faith and work of Christ. Ashes remind us that we came from dust, and we will return to dust.

And so we did it. We used the Ash Wednesday Liturgy in the BOCP as a template, added a few songs and visuals, and worshiped our humble King, ashes and all. Lay people read the Old Testament and Gospel, and the elders applied ashes to the foreheads of everyone who wished to participate. As they applied the ashes they spoke these words, "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return." It was an amazing time of focusing on our mortality and our hope in the resurrection.

Despite the beauty of this fifty minute interactive worship service, more important is the call to a holy Lent. We have encouraged our church to participate in the Divine Hours, well, three times daily (7:30, Noon, and 5:30), to simply stop what we're doing at those times, and to refocus on the things of God. I can tell you first hand that this is nearly impossible for me to do. I am so busy and preoccupied with ministry stuff like putting together Ash Wednesday services, that I forget over and over again. Now I have an alarm on my cell phone set for each of those three times, and I literally have to peel myself away from what I am doing to pray.

Funny story, I was actually mixing the ashes with olive oil in the kitchen of the church before the service, and my pastor walked by the kitchen right at 5:30 and asked if I was coming to pray. (For anyone who is at the church during those times, they are encouraged to pray together in the lobby.) I said to him, "No, I'm scrambling to get everything prepared for the service." Then I stopped myself and realized the whole point of this. Tensing my muscles, spoon shaking, I dropped what I was doing and forced myself to go to the lobby. It's hard. Really hard, but I am finding this to be an absolutely essential practice in my life, not only for this Lenten season.

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