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When Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day Coincide

Next week, for the first time since 1945, Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day will fall on the same day. The juxtaposition feels appropriate to me.

But before I say more, I wonder: What do you first feel when you think of Lent’s arrival? Heaviness? Anticipation? Longing? Dread? A desire to ignore the whole thing? Guilt that you feel that way?

It’s a little different for me each year. Always serious. Often heavy. (How can it not be as I recall the suffering of the One I love?) But also—like the year I noticed how often Jesus referred to marriage as he approached the cross—a beautiful reminder of the love of the One who reaches toward us with his whole self, longing to make us his.

I suspect that some of what we feel about Lent might be related to how we understand its purpose. Which, of course, begs the question: How would you describe, in a few simple words, Lent’s purpose?

Malcolm Guite, Anglican priest and poet, says, “Lent is a time to reorient ourselves, to clarify our minds, to slow down, recover from distraction, to focus on the values of God’s kingdom and on the value he has set on us and on our neighbors” (The Word in the Wilderness, p. ix).

Bruce Hindmarsh, professor of Spiritual Theology at Regent College, in his wonderful, single-page article about Lent says simply, “Lent is about love.”

On Ash Wednesday, Lent’s first day, we remember our human frailty—and our belovedness right in its midst. Those of us who follow the church calendar may have our foreheads marked with ash as a reminder of our mortality. But marked not with a blob or a thumbprint of ash, but a cross, a reminder that the very One in whom and through whom we were created, spurred by his love, joined us in our humanity and chose to lay down his life rather than live without us.

Three Questions I’ve Been Asking Myself As We Approach Lent

Lent is about love. And so I’ve been asking myself as we approach Lent, “What is getting in the way of me whole-heartedly receiving God’s love and giving him mine?”

This year I’m understanding the question not to be just about sacrificing ourselves for each other, important as that is to love, but also enjoying each other. “What is keeping me from wholeheartedly enjoying God and giving myself to him in ways that might particularly delight his heart?”

This question, too, is helpful: “Are there any places I sense God calling me and find myself pulling away?”

And as I prayerfully ponder those questions, my Lenten practice for this year is becoming clearer.

An Unusual Lenten Practice—and Why I’m Pursuing It

For some time, I’ve been noticing myself longing to play. Not to explore the theology of play (though I’m curious about that too) but to rest my brain and engage in the concrete world of color and texture, movement and laughter.

A week or two ago, I found myself almost in tears with longing as I watched the first of a free video series on art journaling. The longing stuck around for days, drawing me back, inviting me to come. And then it was buried under the overwhelm of starting a new thing, of feeling like I “should” be focusing on more serious things. It was hard to hear through the mix of feelings.

I am not a painter. I can barely draw a stick figure. The teacher in my (mandatory) grade ten art class told me my perspective was “screwy as hell.” Maybe that’s part of why I hesitate to follow this longing.

But “longing” is a word I use carefully. It’s deep. It’s often a sign of God stirring something in me. And in this case, the longing was so strong that it felt a lot like Balaam’s donkey sitting down in the middle of the road and refusing to go on, insisting I pay attention. And if that part of me is responding to an angel in the road—or a nudge from the Holy Spirit, or even a deep knowing by some wise part of me—then I don’t want to be like Balaam, the seer who couldn’t see and beat the donkey who was telling the truth.

So for Lent, I have signed up for an art journaling class to get me started. I’ve gathered old magazines from willing neighbors. I will place myself and my art journal daily, or several times a week, in the presence of the One who tells us that the only way to inherit the kingdom of heaven is to come to him like a child. I will listen to what is stirring in me, trusting that the Holy Spirit is at work as I cut and paste, paint and write.

Here, I am a complete beginner. Until Monday, I had never encountered a tube of acrylic paint, nor spread gel medium on the page. I’ve just learned how to spell gesso, and enjoyed getting my fingers in the paint rather than using a brush.

In keeping with my word for January (which seems to be becoming my word of the year), this will be a practice in humility. And trust. And play (which I still maintain is only one letter different than pray for a reason.)

Play It Safe?

In my first attempt at a page on Monday (with a kind artist/chaplain/art-therapy-student/friend), I glued words I’d torn from a magazine to the page: “Play it Safe.” But with the addition of a single red letter, a period like a drop of blood, and an apostrophe, I changed the sentence to reflect the invitation that I think I’m being given: “Play. It’s Safe.”

Here in the shadow of the cross, we are welcomed to join with Christ in his work in the world as part of his body and his bride, sharing his heart, his passion, his life. Yes. And we are also set free to be his kids, free to laugh and dance and play in the delight of knowing that he has done all that is needed to turn us from slaves into his beloved kids.

Where will the Spirit lead me as we play and explore and create together? Will it all be light and playful, or will we venture deep into harder emotions and experiences? I don’t know. Trusting the process, and the One who is leading me into it, is part of the journey.

I’ll be honest: art journalling feels like an unusually un-serious practice for such a serious season as Lent—quite different than any Lenten practice I’ve ever undertaken before. But the One who knows and dearly loves his kids knows exactly what we each need to come closer to him, enjoy him more, and become more fully and freely ourselves—all of which are big parts of the reason he freely went to the cross.

And who knows? It might fun for him, too, to have this kid of his a little less serious :-).

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What about you? What is keeping you from enjoying Jesus’ love and giving him yours? Might there be some (unexpected) way he is inviting you to be with him in this upcoming season?

Need more resources to help you live Lent in a way that’s about love? Here are a few:

When You Need a Gentle Saviour

Finding Hope and Rest in the Season of Lent

Jesus’ Invitation in Our Suffering

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