Today is Ash Wednesday - the beginning of Lent. Possibly strangely, Lent has always been a season in the church year that I love.
Yes, yes I know it doesn't come with the impending festivities of Advent & Christmas. And many people give up something they love (or really, really like) for Lent as a symbol of sacrifice. So I'm sure you're thinking - what's to love about it?
I think there's something to be said for reflection.
As a Christian I try my best to use this time to reflect on not so much what I do that's wrong as some might suspect, but where my relationship with God is at this stage of my life. Because I think more than being a "church-every-Sunday" Christian or being in a state of constant worry / self-loathing over anything I do that might be or might appear wrong (what exactly does that actually accomplish?), I believe having a relationship - an ongoing dialogue with God is the most important key to my faith.
In church tonight, my pastor talked about how there are times in life when we have to walk forward on the path we're on alone. We might have people praying for us or encouraging us or loving us, but we still have to face whatever is ahead on our own. He talked about the passage in Mark 10:32-34 where Jesus is basically talking about his own death. And how he faced that alone.
His sermon made me think about the last 8 months. I've been somewhat annoyingly more reflective about death since my grandmother died. Far from being the first person I'd lost in my life, but she was the first person I ever watched die. Slowly. I am not the first person to experience this and I will certainly not be the last. But watching her change, struggle, hurt and finally let go made me think of Psalm 23 - specifically the verse that says "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil." As a child I thought nothing about this verse really - well truth be told I felt it was metaphorical. Ya know, like when you're going through anything bad in life. Anything alone.
And it might be - probably is. But after watching her I feel like I now know what the valley of the shadow of death looks like and that it is perhaps something more than a metaphor.
For anyone unfamiliar with the typical proceedings of an Ash Wednesday service, at some point (frequently the end) there is a time when you're invited to come up to the front and have ashes placed on your forehead in the shape of a cross.
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. A reminder of how frail and fleeting this life can be. Also a reference to the sackcloth & ashes idea, which is what everyone seems to focus on, but for me - particularly this year it - it is about how quickly life can pass.
Reflection, does not have to be a bad thing. It's not all darkness and self-loathing (or it shouldn't be!) Reflection can simply be taking a moment to stop; to take in what is around you; to breathe; to be quiet; to be still.
And who doesn't need to take the time to do that these days?
Just a thought.