Reflection for Ash Wednesday
The Lord’s Prayer
On the first day of Lent, as we receive ashes on our foreheads each year, we take the time to reflect, to remember. We remember we are dust, and to dust we shall return. Today is set aside to reflect on our mortality, so that in turn we may know what is necessary to live and live fully. In his Rule, Saint Benedict writes “day by day remind yourself that you are going to die.” By being mindful in this manner, one can more clearly distinguish what is essential and what is futile, what is healthy and what is harmful.
While working in palliative care, Dr. Ira Byock discovered that a few simple phrases are powerful catalysts in bringing resolve to the emotional issues with which humans most commonly grapple. In his book, The Four Things: A Book About Living, he encourages people to say: “I love you,” “Thank you,” “I forgive you,” and “Please forgive me.” Needless to say, two out of these four things involve forgiveness. As humans, we endlessly underestimate the power of forgiveness. Yet it remains a foundational component of our Christian life. We see the importance of forgiveness indicated by its mention in the Lord’s Prayer. In fact, the colors of this illuminated text—blue, red, and gold—speak to just how primary and necessary both forgiving and being forgiven are for our well-being.
When we pray primarily in the way that Jesus taught us, an infinite and eternal spectrum of possibilities opens up for us. An intimate relationship with the Lord, a genuine desire for the will of God to manifest more fully on earth, an authentic agreement to work hard for our daily bread while still relying on God to provide for our deepest needs, imploring protection against the deceit of empty promises, and resolving to continually do the work of forgiveness: these are our vital signs as Christians. Just as a painter begins with the primary colors of red, yellow, and blue to mix and achieve the rest of their color scheme, these are the elements of the Christian life that we start with on our palette. By layering these practices over one another, we begin to live vibrantly in the fullness of the reality that God intends for us.
In this Year of Mercy and particularly in this season of Lent, I invite you to search your heart for any unforgiveness you are holding onto that impedes you from truly welcoming the tender mercy of the Father. What can you let go of in order to freely allow God’s love to penetrate your inmost being? For what do you need to forgive yourself? What demands or expectations have you placed upon God that you are now willing to release and repent of? Whom do you need to forgive? Can you hand over these burdens to Christ?
Forgiving others and asking forgiveness will not determine whether or not we will return to dust; it is inevitable that we all will. Rather our choice to forgive determines whether we say yes to Christ, who summons us and seeks to gather us back to himself as one united body. As we begin our journey in this season of Lent, let us pray that we may be humble and courageous in embracing the power embedded in this beautiful prayer Christ offers to the Father in the presence of the disciples. By remembering our eventual return to dust, may the present begin teeming with the potential to practice love, gratitude, and forgiveness. What opportunities do you have today to begin saying “I love you,” “Thank you,” “I forgive you,” and “Please forgive me”? Will you make the most of them?
Rachel Gabelman is a Master of Divinity candidate at Saint John’s School of Theology and Seminary. She serves as a graduate assistant with Seeing the Word.