Ash Wednesday and the Imitatio Christi
We must imitate Christ's life and his ways if we are to be truly enlightened and set free from the darkness of our own hearts. Let it be the most important thing we do, then, to reflect on the life of Jesus Christ.
--Thomas a Kempis
Lent is rather new for me. It was my senior year of high school as I sat outside of a Wal-Mart for a choir fundraiser, when one of my fellow chorale members came with ash & oil cross on his forehead. My only recollection of why he did this when asked, "Well, I gave up video games for Lent. Last year was chocolate." But why?...I wondered.
It seemed frivolous to me to simply give up some random item without a "why" behind it. Honestly, it still does.
Yesterday as I was pinning & re-pinning on Pinterest, I typed in "Lent" into the search box. A huge assortment came spilling out, from beautiful Lent candle wreaths to chocolate oreo cake. What struck me was the comments on the desserts, like this one below stating: "Gave up chocolate for Lent. How soon on Easter morning will I be eating this?"
The people of Israel respond (Isaiah 58:3):
'We have fasted before you!' they say. 'Why aren't you impressed? We have been very hard on ourselves, and you don't even notice it!'
As Jesus walked those forty days in the desert denying himself, he didn't do it to prove something, or to get some pat on the back. He did it for love, he did it for us. He saw in those years before...the road to Calvary. It was through his denial of self, which led him to have compassion on the crowds, mercy for the unforgiving mobs, and love to the point of death on a cross.
God responds to Israel (Isaiah 58:3b-5):
'I will tell you why!' I respond. 'It's because you are fasting to please yourselves. Even while you fast, you keep oppressing your workers. What good is fasting when you keep on fighting and quarreling? This kind of fasting will never get you anywhere with me. You humble yourselves by going through the motions of penance, bowing your heads like reeds bending in the wind. You dress in burlap and cover yourselves with ashes. Is this what you call fasting? Do you really think this will please the Lord?'
It is our heart Jesus is interested in. It's always been our heart. We walk through Lent to humble our hearts & to become in nature, in imitation of the Christ. So as we meditate these forty days leading to the lowly walk toward Golgotha, may we begin with hearts of contrition. May we come to God with true fasting of the heart, asking His Spirit to examine us in our finite ways.
Prayer of Examen (taken from Richard Foster's book Prayer):
Precious Savior, why do I fear your scrutiny? Yours is an examen of love. Still, I am afraid...afraid of what may surface. Even so, I invite you to search me to the depths so that I may know myself--and you--in fuller measure. Amen.
Reading: Isaiah 58, Psalm 139
Journal, prayer, reflection: What is God revealing to me in response to these two passages? Where is He directing me to fast from fasting in these forty days?