are a puff
on the brow
of the Almighty
Ash Wednesday. It can be two things, just as Lent can. It can be a terrifying reminder that we are going to die; and so to be avoided at all costs, just as death is daily. Or the liberating freedom of knowing we are mortal creatures, with less permanence than a breath. I’m in that second camp. I love Ash Wednesday. I love the freedom it brings.
And I love Sabbath for the exact same reason. This might seem like a strange leap, but stay with me. This year, my parish is being challenged to make Sabbath their Lenten practice. Why? Because Sabbath also says: you are not God, the world will go on without you, take one day to stop pretending to be God. It says much the same thing as Ash Wednesday, you are dust mortal. Can you by worrying add a day to your life? No. Can you by managing every moment change the course of this world? No. Can you by working undo the march of time? No.
You are dust. Beautiful, holy, beloved mortal. God smears your forehead with her thumb, smears ash across your worrying brow and whispers “you are mortal, let me be God.”
until there is nothing
with the might
of your lungs
for a heartbeat
and what comes next
is the first
of an infant
Put away all the Protestant fears you have. That this is about rules, or what you can and cannot do. I don’t care, and I suspect God cares less, because I like rules. God loves you. So sit still, for a blessed moment, breathing, and feeling how fragile a thing that breath is. And commit a day, or an afternoon to ceasing. Ceasing to worry, to nag, to press. Let the dishes pile up, and the laundry heap the floor. Let the homework sit (yes, really), and the honey do list be blank. And trust that God, the God who made every cell in your body and star in the sky from the same stuff, loves you. Trust that God has this, for a few hours God will take care of this world while you cease to be super Mom, or CEO, or priest, or cook, or chauffeur, or cruise director.
Now. Think for me about what is delight, and joy, and refreshment in your life and that, that is the rule of your Sabbath. Snuggle with your husband and watch a movie. Pop popcorn with the kids and do the same. Go to the beach and all become sun burnt and sand covered and exhausted. Take the dog to the park without your cell phone and throw the ball until neither of you wants to do anything but nap in the sun. Make your favorite dinner as a family all helping (even if that isn’t really helping) and laugh when it burns, and don’t care that it isn’t perfect and just enjoy each other.
It will be messy. Sometimes it won’t work. Sometimes the voices in your head that urge you to stay busy, to keep the world spinning just won’t shut up. It isn’t about getting it right. It is about going back, again and again, to the goodness God has laid out for us, and sampling. Without shame. Every time, no matter how rough. This isn’t another activity, it isn’t another thing to fit into your week it is your week. Your anchor. This is life, and feasting, and joy.
Or try this simple template:
- Sabbath prep – This is a good time to put away those things you won’t need for your Sabbath, this will vary based on your choices. Put the car keys in a special bowl with your phone, your wallet, your todo list, whatever you won’t need while you keep Sabbath.
- Begin by lighting a candle while saying a prayer to dedicate your Sabbath time (whatever that might be, from an hour to a day) to God.
- Enjoy. Read, take a walk, nap, visit with a friend, talk to family on the phone, watch a movie, cuddle, play with the dog, take a long horseback ride. Delight.
- Close your Sabbath time with a prayer of thankfulness and a prayer for the busy time ahead until you can enjoy Sabbath again. Snuff a candle, turn on lights, or whatever other actions help to mark the close of this time for you.
May your Lent by holy.