Today was Ash Wednesday, the start to Lent. Lent also happens to be, oddly enough, my favorite liturgical season. The quiet reflection and the darkness under the shadow of the cross speak to me by emphasizing the presence of God in the worst.
Much to my surprise, then, I noticed that at tonight's service people were smiling so easily. Today is a day of fasting and repentance, yet people were smiling and happy to see one another. We couldn't start this most dour and depressing of seasons with smiles, could we?
Ash Wednesday is an invitation to the darkness. An invitation to a place of reflection, penitence and growing as Christians. In the darkness, though, there is light.
If the outward sign of Lent is a downcast face, a sad heart, and overly sorrowful liturgy, then the real grace and light of Lent is lost. Lent is a time for freedom even in fasting.
Fasting from all that which would tear us away from God. Fasting from even good things from God's creation so that we might treasure them all the more. Fasting to unite ourselves in the pain, suffering and temptation of Christ and of God's beloved children.
Seeing Lent as a time of darkness and sorrow is really only part right; yes, it is a time of darkness because the cross looms over us, but it is not a time of sorrow for sorrow's sake. Put off your sackcloth, wash your face, and smile through the rumblings in your stomach. Smile for the freedom that fasting gives you for you are not bound by guilty pleasures, hateful thoughts and sin; you are united forever to the God of all creation through His Son.
From ashes you arise, and to ashes you shall return. And you shall return to the Light that created you.