We had beautiful Ash Wednesday ceremonies yesterday evening. Unaccompanied plainsong, psalm and Merbecke, and three gentle hymns. Whoever observed that in the catholic tradition music aids devotion and calms the spirit, whereas in the reformed tradition it excites the emotions, knew a thing or two.
Ash Wednesday is a wonderful feast of being human. Since dust we are and to dust we shall return, we might as well stop trying to be what we’re not. Ditch the personae, shed the skins. Relax into ourselves.
Lent as relaxation. Yes, relaxation. Letting go, loosening up. Freeing from constraints.
Relaxation from the constraints that we tie ourselves up with, and the new clothes we wrap around ourselves to appear bigger, brighter and better than we are, to impress others. (Evagrios the Solitary, 4th century: Of the demons … there are three groups who fight in the front line: those entrusted with the appetites of gluttony, those who suggest avaricious thoughts, and those who incite us to seek the esteem of men.)
Relaxation from the constraints that constitute addictions. I’m not suggesting we indulge them but, as it were, put them on the table in front of us and look at them full in the face. Addictions to food, booze, complaining, finding fault, having to win … and so many more. Hold them up to yourself and the Lord. You can’t let go of something unless you look at it and know what it is you have to let go of.
Relaxation – moving to a wide place. If we are not constrained, if our view is not limited, we have freedom of action, we are farseeing.
Relaxation – not laziness—far from it—but freeing up so each one of us can give to the world what only each one of us can give.
Relaxation – abstinence from things that hold us back. Don’t give up what you enjoy: that’s just another constraint. Rather give up what you don’t need any more. Let go of ways of thinking that you once needed but that now constrain you. Let go of hurts, resentments, oughts and shoulds. Let go of prejudices and attitudes that restrict your view of the world. Start saying ‘no’ to the expectations of others, and begin to get to know someone you’ve hardly ever met—no, not your maker, but yourself (thanks to W R Inge, sometime Dean of London, for this nugget of gold).
This Lenten abstinence has nothing to do with hair shirts, but everything to do with freeing up yourself for delight you had forgotten was in you. It’s about losing your ego, and rediscovering the Divine within.
Welcome deare feast of Lent.