Preparation to Receive Ashes
In Tucson, the temperatures will top 90 degrees before the week's out. I'm preparing to preach and give a parish mission in Ham Lake, Minnesota, so I'm enjoying the sunshine and shorts weather. But it's also time to prepare for Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent.
The ashes traced on our forehead in the sign of the cross are a double reminder: first of all, of the cross traced on our forehead just before we were baptized. It is the sign that we have been claimed for Christ, the seal of the servants of God (Rev. 7:3). It reminds us that our life is not our own; that we have been purchased and at a price (1Cor 6:20). The ashes are also a jarring reminder of our mortality and the swift passing of our days: an annual "memento mori."
I came across another memento mori: an ethical will written by my friend Pat Armstrong a couple of years before her death. The idea behind an ethical will is to pass on to children and friends more than resources you've accumulated during your life. An ethical will is an attempt to share with loved ones what you've learned in your journey through life. Perhaps as we prepare for Lent, we might ask ourselves the following or similar questions. They may help us consider what we might do (or stop doing) this Lent in order to draw closer to Jesus.
a. What have you learned so far in life that you consider to be really important?
b. What regrets do you have?
c. If you were to die today, what would you miss most from this life?
d. Who are the most important people in your life?
e. With whom do you spend the most time? (and are the answers to questions "d" and "e" the same?)
f. What have you spent a lot of time doing that you with you hadn't done?
g. What is your relationship with God like right now?
h. Did Jesus make either list "d" or "e"?
These are questions I'll be thinking about for the next two days. I hope they help you as you consider your spiritual exercises for Lent.