Tomorrow marks the observance of Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. Christians and believers around the world will gather together to kick off a period of observance and fasting.
Ash Wednesday is a day of observance in the Christian tradition. According to the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus spent 40 days fasting in the desert and being tempted by Satan. It is a time when Christians may choose to deny themselves something, such as fast food, alcohol or another indulgence as a way of strengthening their relationship with God.
At the same time, many Christians choose to add an activity to their daily practice. Prayer and meditation, time spent reading the Bible or another spiritual activity may prove to help strengthen a believer's faith.
Whatever is done during Lent should be done in a mindful manner, always remembering what Christ gave up for us.
Ash Wednesday is commonly observed with the tradition of applying ashes to the forehead. Services at church allow believers to pray and receive the ashes as a public mark of a personal commitment. Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians and some Baptist denominations all apply the ashes, though other faith traditions do not.
The ashes themselves come from the previous year's palms used during Palm Sunday. The tradition of applying Ashes comes from the Bible, as ashes are repeatedly cited in times of mourning and repentance. "Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes," (Job 42:6). Daniel also writes, "I turned to the Lord God, pleading in earnest prayer, with fasting, sackcloth and ashes" (Daniel 9:3).
Yet Lent can be a period of joy and celebration as we are reminded of our relationship with God and the sacrifice God made for us. As Sister Joan Chittister writes, "Lent is the opportunity to change what we ought to change but have not. Lent is about becoming, doing and changing whatever it is that is blocking the fullness of life in us right now."
Whatever we may choose to do, or not do, during Lent, let us do it with a grateful heart. When considering all that God has done for us, suddenly 40 days does not seem so long.