While studying late one evening at the English Faculty Library during the term I spent studying in Oxford, the toll of church bells began to invade my absorption in the texts. I was used to their pealing from the medieval churches all over this “city of dreaming spires” on Sunday mornings, but not on a Wednesday night.
And then I remembered: it was Ash Wednesday.
I started my walk homeward, wishing I had planned time to attend an evening service tonight. The bells’ peal was almost deafening as I passed St. Cross church, an ancient stone structure with a cemetery of worn, mossy gravestones, many of the names worn away by the centuries.
When I reached 4 Kingston Road, the row house I shared with six other girls north of the City Centre, one of my housemates returned from the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin with an ashen cross on her forehead. The next year, back at our home university, I received that cross as well at our Ash Wednesday chapel. It was special, a good thing…a reminder.
I’m not from an extremely liturgical background, and many years I haven’t marked the beginning of Lent at all. But while I don’t think the season or the practices some of Christ’s church have come to associate with it are biblically mandated, surely taking time in some way to prepare our hearts for Holy Week can be a good and godly thing. Like Advent, a time to intentionally turn toward Him and remember the reality and incredibility of what He did—and what He still does, summed up in the tragedy and triumph of what can quickly pass in a trumpeting Easter service and an afternoon of colored eggs.
In recent years, I have begun to ask the Lord what He wants me to do during each Lent—whether giving something up, or just a different focus for the season. What He’s impressed on my heart the past few days—though I hadn’t connected it with Lent until this morning—is how much He values our just sitting at His feet and listening to Him. At Bible study this week, I was struck by how Jesus praised those who did this: Mary of Bethany, who chose the better part by sitting at His feet rather than rushing around and being worried and bothered about so many things (sounds uncomfortably like me); those who sat and listened to Him instead of fretting that He was out of His mind like His family did in Mark 3.
Then yesterday our pastor’s wife emailed how she is seeking to just be more aware of Jesus’ risen presence within her each day this Lent. And before bed I read this:
“Whom have I in heaven but You? And besides You, I desire nothing on earth. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. For, behold, those who are far from You will perish; You have destroyed all those who are unfaithful to You. But as for me, the nearness of God is my good; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all Your works.” ~Psalm 73:25-28
Though I sometimes tend to think of it the other way round, it seems it is in nearness to Him, taking refuge in Him, that I will then be able to tell of all His works and best share Him with others.
A blessed Lent, everyone.
Photo: St. Cross Church in the daytime