An ash Wednesday service in Mozambique looks very different than what you would find in a typical Protestant Church of the United States…big surprise I’m sure. For my family and I, we were never able to grasp the local Xitswa language in which all the church services were led. One form of worship which never failed to resonate with us, regardless of ability to comprehend, was the sounds of singing. God has no specific language, only heart language. I believe, however, just as some people’s words resonate better with us, African singing is a more direct path of the Holy Spirit to the heart of women and men.
For this year’s Ash Wednesday Service, I was fortunate to accompany my mother and grandmother to their church in Monroe, Louisiana. Northminster Baptist Church is housed in beautiful grounds and lovely sanctuary close to Bayou Desiard (pronounced Dee-Seared). They are a welcoming and progressive congregation and each visit promises nuggets of Gospel Goodness. Listening to the words of Pastor Zachary Helton, I found my heart stirred as he beautifully spoke of the Lenten season. With his permission, I want you share his words with you.
Reflections by Pastor Zachary:
The poet Rumi once wrote:
For hundreds of thousands of years I was mineral,
then I died to that form and rose as plant.
For hundreds of thousands of years I was plant,
Then I died to that form and rose as animal.
For hundreds of thousands of years, I was animal,
Then I died to that form and rose as human being.
So tell me, why should I fear? What have I ever lost by dying?
Lent is the season of dying. It is the season of dying to the illusionary ways we see ourselves and the world, To our False Selves, To our egos, so that in time we may be born again to a new way of being in the world, to a resurrection life, to our True Selves.
We die to that form that we may rise to Christlikeness the world, To our False Selves,
To our egos, so that in time we may be born again to a new way of being in the world, to a resurrection life, to our True Selves.
We die to that form that we may rise to Christlikeness.
But this journey through death into new life can only begin by embracing one simple yet difficult fact: We will die. We were once dust, and to dust we shall return. We are held together and animated by a Spirit larger than ourselves. We are impermanent waves making their way across the surface of a large and wonderful sea. But it is only by embracing our mortality, by coming to terms with our impermanence, by joining Jesus on his road to the cross, that we will ever be able to let go of our conception that we are just a wave and embrace the truth that we are the sea. That we will ever be able to let go of our conception that we are somehow separate, and embrace the truth that we are vessels of the One Divine Love.
We must ask with the poet: what have we ever lost by dying? We begin this season by acknowledging our own morality, our own impermanence, to practice death before the moment comes. We do this in order to prepare ourselves for a new kind of life, a resurrected life of union with Love and union with one another. We do this to find our True Selves.
So let us set about this work of acknowledging our morality.
*emphases and bold added by me
As I walked behind my grandmother while she approached the paster and received the sign of the cross in ashes upon her forehead, I was overwhelmed with a heavy sense of reality. As the paster said to me the words, “From dust you come to dust you will return,” I paused in a moment of understanding. I reflected upon the four of us there, my four year old daughter, my mother in her late 60s, and my grandmother boldly entering the sunset of life, and I saw full circle.
We need this time of lent, at each stage in life, to fine tune our walk with Christ. This time is our opportunity, or more importantly, our Permission to think and prepare for death. Reflection on our mortality is how we can truly live in the moment. As we shoulder the burdens of a broken world, our individual crosses bearing us down, we are blessed by a risen Lord to point us the Way. As the sun rises each day, we too rise and face head on the challenge to live into our “True Selves.”