What's Tony Thinking

May Yours Be a Blessed Lent


Ash Wednesday today, also Valentine’s Day. There’s a mash-up! More creative minds than mine are finding connections between the two, I’m sure. Thanks to reader Reynolds Shook for the graphic!

A few Ash Wednesday/ Lent thoughts.

Often people think Ash Wednesday is mostly about mortality. “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” “Dust you are and to dust you shall return.” Reminders of mortality have their place.

But I’ve always preferred the alternate words to accompany the imposition of ashes on the foreheads of those who come to Ash Wednesday services. “Turn away from your sins, and believe the good news of the gospel.”

Why? Well, I think Ash Wednesday is more about truth-telling, confession of sin and our need for grace than it is about mortality. I like this from author Janet Malcolm and her book In the Freud Archives, cited by my friend Jason Micheli.

“There are few among us who do not resist self-knowledge. We are all perpetually smoothing and rearranging reality to conform to our wishes; we lie to others and ourselves constantly, unthinkingly.

“When, occasionally— and not by dint of our own efforts but the under the pressure of external events— we are forced to see things as they are, we are like naked people in a storm.”

Ash Wednesday is a day to “see things as they are.” Maybe it’s the note of mortality that prompts, or is intended to prompt, “seeing things as they are.”

But we are able to do so only because we have confidence in a merciful God. “There is more grace in God, than there is sin in us,” as I sometimes say when it comes to the words of assurance. We do not serve an angry God who is just waiting and watching to get us. We serve a merciful God who longs for us to come home. But not waiting, our God goes looking for us when and where we have become lost.

Ash Wednesday is the church’s version of what folks in AA call “The Fourth Step.” “A searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” Here’s a Fourth Step Prayer from AA:

“God, please help me to honestly take stock. Help me to search out the flaws in my make-up which caused my failure. Help me to see where resentment has plagued me and resulted in spiritual malady, but more importantly help me to understand my part in these resentments.”

You don’t pray such a prayer until you have done Steps 1, 2 and 3 and come to trust in a power greater than yourself which can restore you to health and sanity. In other words, grace also precedes confession. Like Adam and Eve we hide and lie when we believe the truth will bring only shame and condemnation (sometimes it does!).

An aside, but I think it is fascinating one. Something Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin have in common is that both believe they have no need of forgiveness, from God or man. “I’ve never done anything wrong,” Trump has famously said, “why would I need forgiveness?” Putin, while professing to be a devoted son of the Russian Orthodox Church, balked when it came time in the service to prostrate himself before the priest and ask for forgiveness. Putin said he had done nothing for which to be forgiven. I’m pretty sure they aren’t the only ones who see things this way.

Takes us back to Janet Malcolm. “There are few among us who do not resist self-knowledge.”

Ash Wednesday is an invitation to do the hard work of honest self-knowledge . . . on our knees at the mercy seat of our loving Savior. May it be for you and for me the beginning of a blessed Lent as the lengthening days and growing light remind us of God’s faithfulness and care.




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