Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ash Wednesday

First, (if you've been paying attention) I've changed the "header" image for this blog. I want to match the general direction of the postings between today - ASH WEDNESDAY - and EASTER - six and a half weeks down the road.

I'll start with the story behind the header image, then I'll outline the process I'll be following between now and Easter. If you'd like to take this Easter-bound journey with me, I'll be honored to have you along. Lent is truly a road less-travelled-by; so come back to this space every day and I can guarantee you'll see Easter with New Eyes.

- This past summer, Rebekah and I took our epic vacation to Italy. Two weeks in Tuscany, a weekend around Milan, and three short days in Rome. Rome - of course - is awesome no matter what your agenda. But the Sistine Chapel, with the famous ceiling painted by Michelangelo (completed in 1512) was an emotional highlight.

Okay, so I like to take photographs. But I also respect protocols and especially those designed to protect antiquities. Our guide told us that no photography is allowed in the Sistine Chapel. "The flash will cause damage to the art," she said. Plus there were large signs everywhere "No Photo!" Then there were numerous, scowling, guards. I put my camera away.

However, when we entered the chapel the place was jam packed with tourists. Flash photography all over the place - it was relentless! Then, every three minutes or so, one of the guards would yell loudly - "NO PHOTO!" and it would stop... for about one minute, before starting all over again.

Eventually, after watching this pattern repeat for several cycles, I couldn't stand it any longer. I took out my camera, turned the flash off, dialed in a deep depth of field, set the exposure to "existing light", placed my Nikon face-up in the palm of my hand, stood in the center of the crowd, and took three frames - without even looking through the viewfinder - before putting the camera away.

The result is the blog header you can see at the top of the page.

ASH WEDNESDAY and the sacred rhythm:
Over the past few years I've been learning to appreciate some of what I call "the sacred rhythms" of the Christian calendar. I used to pay little or no attention to Easter until Palm Sunday. Then I'd rush, headlong, through Holy Week, always playing catch-up, never quite in tune with the enormity of Christ's Passion until it pretty much crushed me on Good Friday.

Observing Lent is a much better idea, and Ash Wednesday is the traditional kick off - 40 days of fasting and prayer leading up to Easter (there are 46 days total, but 6 of them are Sundays). The 40 day idea comes from the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness at the beginning of his public ministry.

"40 Days" is one of those Bible numbers that means something more than simple mathematics. It's the biblical equivalent of "A long time". Like the number "7" (perfection/completeness) "70 times 7" (perfection to the tenth power of perfection) or "666" (incomplete/short of perfection) , it's kind of a Bible slang or euphemism. "Hey, Moses; how long is your mother-in-law staying?" "40 days, you know what I'm saying..."

So I'm thinking ahead. I'm launching my 40 days by saying this to God. "Please be with me as I think more seriously about my relationship to Eternal truth. Today I'm making a promise. I promise to be more deliberate when it comes to moving aside distractions that cloud my ability to see Jesus clearly. This is a daily commitment. Amen."

This is the fun part, and the part where I need your prayers. Upper Room Books have given me a contract to write a new book. The book is designed to be read during Lent. I'm writing this book "in real time", right now, day-by-day during Lent 2010. That means I have a short chapter to write later today.

This morning devotional time, these daily blog posts, the time you get to read "over my shoulder", are an important part of this process. Your responses - comments and emails - may find their way into the new book.

Life is a journey, Lent is a particular element of the journey. Won't you walk with me over the coming 40 days?

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. After fasting 40 days and 40 nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, "If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread." Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread along, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" - Matthew 4:1-4

- Love and blessings - DEREK

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