February 19, 2015
I joined the #1000Speaks group over a month ago, but naturally I put off writing the post until the week it was due. I didn’t even know what I was going to write until last night. Hence, this is one of the churchiest posts you’ll probably ever read on this blog. But it’s what came up, and thus it is what I will post. This is where the compassion entered.
One perhaps does not at first associate Ash Wednesday and Lent with compassion.
No, one generally conceives of dark purple and black, sooty ashes, penitence, kneeling, self-denial. These do not immediately conjure up notions of compassion, kindness, and non-judgment.
It feels more like the dark season of judg-y repentance before the compassion.
I arrived at a dark and lightly chilled Ash Wednesday service last night in some trepidation. I had sat out the previous year’s Lent—entirely. I didn’t even make it to an Ash Wednesday service, much less do anything else for Lent. Good Friday and Easter? Blips on the calendar. It had been a hard year, and I didn’t have the energy.
But that didn’t mean I felt no guilt. Or not guilt, exactly—I knew I was doing the best I could do at the time—but I felt a sense of responsibility, or, at the least, the idea that God probably thought less of me for not joining in and prioritizing my spiritual life.
I attend a fairly traditional liturgical church that has not changed the service language in favor of gender inclusiveness and that does not shy away from talk about sinfulness and wretchedness. So I went to the Ash Wednesday service this week expecting fire and brimstone and judgment, or at least a focus on sin and doom.
What I found instead was language like this:
The purpose of the fast is to help us detach from the thing and attach to God. And you will fail at your disciplines, and it’s okay. It’s about your growth.
And hymns like this:
Thou hast mercy upon all things, O Lord,
and hatest nothing that thou has created,
and winkest at men’s iniquities because they should amend,
and sparest all men, for they are thine,
O Lord, thou lover of men’s souls.
And prayers like this:
Thou art the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy.
And instead of walking away feeling wretched and ee-vill, bearing down under my own weighty sin…I felt encouraged; I felt loved; I felt indulged, even.
And all that with a black ashen cross inscribed on my forehead. And it didn’t feel like a brand of doom. Instead, it felt like a mark of love.
This Lent, I have added a discipline that is not ascetic in the least—I will practice self-compassion so that I can practice compassion with others, and so that I can learn to receive the compassion God practices toward me.