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Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of what we call the penitential season of Lent. Fasting, almsgiving and prayer are traditionally associated with Lent, however it should never be considered a morose season - "an annual ordeal during which we begrudgingly forgo a handful of pleasures." Lent is a time of opportunity, a time when we can emerge from the darkness of winter and be surprised by the joy of the budding of spring - Lent means spring time!

"Our self-sacrifices serve no purpose unless, by laying aside this or that desire, we are able to focus on our heart's deepest longing: unity with Christ. In him - in his suffering and death, his resurrection and triumph - we find our truest joy." (Bread and Wine, Readings for Lent and Easter)

Our Lenten disciplines, whether we take things on or give things up should all be focused on ways we can diminish our own needs and support the needs of others and the world. As the apostle John said, "Christ must increase, and I must decrease." If giving up chocolate and milk in your coffee, does that, great! But if writing a letter to a friend does that, that's great too. Lenten disciplines should perhaps be anything we can do to discover Christ amid our human doing lives; anything we can do to experience "the strangeness of divine mercy and the Love from which it springs."

If you are looking for a Lenten book, you might pull out the old classic Bread and Wine, published by Plough in 2003. I have quoted from the introduction here, and it has 46 readings the cover the season of Lent proper from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday. Beginning with Oscar Wilde's poem "The Ballad of Reading Gaol," the readings guide us through this season of repentance, but not erasing the good news that Christ overcame all sin in his resurrection which freed us from ourselves!

May we be surprised by Joy as we turn our attention away from all that is wrong with us and with the world and experience the abundant life that Christ promises.

from Oscar Wilde's poem: "How else but through a broken heart/May Lord Christ enter in?"


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