Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent

Drawn Together for Lent…

The meditation below, from Pippa, given at our Ash Wednesday service, kicks off our small group meetings weekly through Lent this year.

Come and celebrate God’s love and generosity and think about passing it on!   “Count your Blessings” with Christian Aid and make connections that count.   At this key moment of our community life, before Easter and a new chapter with our new priest, let’s be drawn together to prepare, pray and learn.  We will be following a series of Christian Aid reflections, linking international issues with similar themes relating to our own community.

7.00 in church: 

Tues 24th Feb; Thurs 5th March; Tues 10 March; Thurs19 March ; Tues 24th March.

“If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.  And the Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your desire with good things, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.” Isaiah 10 -11

Isaiah 58, to me personally, is one of the most powerful passages of scripture.  It is one which moved me very directly, when I was a searching Christian student in my early twenties.  We were rather into piety in those days: looking for light, blessing, healing, guidance, the power of the Holy Spirit.  There was a backlash from the 1960s that any wiff of activism was a suspicious, liberal, “social gospel” – faith without power, and mere legalism.

Then one day I happened upon reading this passage from Isaiah 58, and it struck me like a thunderbolt, perhaps my first direct experience of God.  We were chasing the wrong goal, in looking for blessing without context or understanding of the nature of faith.  Here Isaiah presents a dynamic interaction between obedient service and experience of God. THIS is what God wants, and all these blessings will follow.  The result: homes are rebuilt as housing policy provides affordable housing for all; hungry people have food, intercepted or otherwise; oppression comes to an end; people are well clothed.

And for those who have enabled these things:  healing; glory; answered prayer; experiences of guidance; energy; springs of ongoing water and light.

Well, sometimes.  Sometimes it’s just a long hard exhausting slog.

Where are we now?   In PCC this week I was weeping over our government policy, when asylum organisations say that there will be no positive responses to requests for asylum until the election is over – we must be seen to achieve numbers for people deported.   This election is affecting my friends and my colleagues and possibly sending some of them to their deaths.     So I wept in PCC and end up exhausted, with many others.  Where do we go for solace and support in our work for justice?   Someone said, perhaps tears are the only rational response.

Where do we go?  Increasingly, I go out into the natural world, and I have had a fortunate opportunity to lead retreats over the last five months to enable others to do so.  To bring together the city, our personal stories, our worship with all its myths and festivals, and an acute observation of what is going on outdoors.   There is a deep disjuncture in our society between ourselves and the natural rhythms of the world, hard to perceive in the city.  This attitude is linked to our relationship with other people across the planet, as people as well as resources are seen for our “use”.

What’s happening in FEBRUARY?  It’s gloomy, people get Seasonal Affective Disorder. New life is coming but it’s still hidden.  Lent sees Carnival in many parts of the world, on Shrove Tuesday, just before Lent begins. Carnival seems good to release emotion.  “It’s as if, before the discipline and order of Lent, the untamed pageantry of our unconscious souls must be let loose. Carnival costumes often contained opposites like dressing up as our shadow-selves, or the part we do not reveal.  Both Lent and carnival are about looking at the un-named, which wells up within us. At carnival we let it go into the streets for a day, with feasting and play and relaxed rules, and during Lent we bring it before the loving gaze of God.” (Tess Ward)

On our Wild City Retreats we have been looking at the Celtic Tree Calendar:   “The tree that the Celts associated with February is willow.  Known as the Queen of the waters, the willow is the most feminine of trees. It’s Celtic name, Saile, means to leap or let go, which is why leap year falls in February.  Willow calls on us to make this leap, but the only way is to release feeling, cut ties that bind us to past ways of being or thinking. As we do so, life changes and we surge ahead.” (Tess Ward again)

Willow has strength and flexibility, it makes cricket bats.   It has stupendous energy and regenerativity.  Cut a bit and stick in the ground and it will grow.   Fast!   Lots of schools have made beautiful living sculptures from it.   But it is also the tree of grief the weeping willow, associated with water.  “There we hung up our lyres. “

So, in our Ash Wednesday service, I bought in some curly willow from our garden. The bright chequered cloth of carnival was covered with paper, and the willow branch surrounded with chunky sticks of burnt willow, transformed by fire into: Charcoal.   A reference to the ash with which our foreheads were marked in the following Eucharist.  Burnt, transformed.  Natural growth, tempered with fire into something creative.

We were all asked to walk round the table draw a line round the vase of willow, to symbolise our journey this Lent.  Thick and thin lines, broken bits, interactions with other lines, smudges: willow and grief transformed and shared.  One simple line each, but it all merged together and we had made a drawing.  Drawn Together.  You can see this in church.  Perhaps it will be changed again before Lent is over.

Sometimes the calling we receive from God is to pour ourselves out, to be changed, to be transformed through fire.  Grief has been called the river of tears which washes us on down river to the new place we are meant to be.    Lamentation is a true response to injustices we are called to respond to.  But there is hope, we are all part of the wider cycles of nature, resurrection, growth and loving service.

“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?  Is it not to share your food with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house;  when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?  THEN shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rea guard. THEN you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and God will say, HERE I AM.” Isaiah 58 6-9

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