Ash Wednesday – Turning to God
Even now, says the LORD,
return to me with your whole heart,
with fasting, and weeping, and mourning;
Rend your hearts, not your garments,
and return to the LORD, your God.
For gracious and merciful is he,
slow to anger, rich in kindness,
and relenting in punishment.
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, traditionally a time of penitence. But what does that mean?
Penitence is not so much about punishment as about repentance. To repent is to turn around and go back to God. Sin is separation from God, so repentance is about making a different choice – a choice to turn back to God.
We tend to think that changed attitudes precede changed behaviors, but in fact the opposite is more usually the case. We grow into new attitudes by practicing new behaviors even when our feelings don’t always match. Feelings are important information and must, if we are to be healthy, be acknowledged and examined. But our feelings ought never to be our only guide to action. Repentance is an ongoing practice that occurs daily, or even minute by minute in some situations. If accompanied by prayer it becomes a habit. Perfection is a process, never a place to settle.
God is the destination.
It may be helpful to do as the ancients did, and think about this process not so much in terms of particular attitudes of sin or sickness but rather in their opposing virtues. Then we can cultivate practices or remedies that enable those virtues to help us turn around, back again toward God, who is, after all, the author and purpose of our life.
This year’s weekly Lenten reflections will examine these virtues:
Reflections will appear on Wednesdays throughout Lent, with one additional post in Holy Week.
–Baya Clare CSJ