On Wednesday, I was struggling. I didn’t have the words to cry out to God. I didn’t have the emotional capacity to say the things I needed to express. I know God understands what I am feeling. But not being able to articulate it to him left me trapped in a un-communicative spiritual vacuum. My brain was broken. My heart was hurting. My emotions were on edge and my soul was sore.
Wednesday was also Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. You may have read about my exploration of Advent, and how it has helped me to slow down in a season where we are tempted to be busy and frantic. So now I’m also exploring Lent, and what this spiritual season could look like for me, a mixed-up Protestant with uncertain opinions and a theology based on clinging to Jesus.
Lent takes place in the 40 days leading up to Easter (the time we celebrate Jesus’ death and resurrection). It’s a period of reflection and sacrifice, in the light of the sacrifice Jesus made at the cross. It mimics the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert, praying and fasting.
In my new tradition of vaguely following the church calendar, I went to an Ash Wednesday prayer book church service with some friends. I had almost no emotional energy and still no words to speak to God with. But that was okay. The beautiful thing about liturgy is that you don’t need to find your own words. You only need to repeat the good, faithful truth words of the service along with the congregation.
As we spoke and prayed our way through the liturgy, I was reminded again and again of truths I know, even though I didn’t have the capacity to express them myself. I spoke of the truth that God is sovereign, I acknowledged him as my Lord, I thanked him for the cross. I repeated the glorious truth that I am forgiven, I am accepted, I am loved, despite my brokenness.
In those 45 minutes, we prayed, we thanked God, we took the Lord’s Supper and we were marked with ashes. The physical mark of the ashes helped me to recentred myself to the reality I live in. I was told to remember that I am dust, and to dust I shall return. The way the Lord’s Supper interacts with taste and smell and the feel of the wood under my hands were tangible things that pulled me out of myself and pointed me to Jesus and the reality of his love.
Liturgy helped me. I didn’t need a chaotic rush of noise and complex ideas. I didn’t have the energy or strength of mind to follow a complicated 30 minute sermon. I didn’t even have the words to express to a small group of people what I was feeling and thinking. I just needed Jesus. I just needed to hear and say the words of Gospel over again. I needed to be reminded that I am part of a larger whole in the church of God.
These are the words that reminded that I am sinner, loved and redeemed by God:
Almighty and merciful God,
you hate nothing that you have made
and forgive the sins of all who are penitent;
create in us new and contrite hearts,
so that when we turn to you and confess our sins
we may receive your full and perfect forgiveness;
through Jesus Christ our Redeemer
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God now and for ever. Amen.