A Journey of Devotion – Ash Wednesday

Thoughts on Ash Wednesday, taken from Worship Without Words by Patricia S. Klein – oh my, I cannot recommend this little book strongly enough if you have any interest at all in liturgy, loveliness, and visuals in worship.


The name is taken from the custom of putting ashes on the forehead on this first day of Lent, as a reminder of our need for repentance. The date of Ash Wednesday falls forty-six days before Easter. The ashes used are the powdered ashes of the burnt palms from the previous year’s Palm Sunday services.


…all this flourishing life, turns to a little ash, a handful of dry dust, which every breeze scatters this way and that. All this brilliant color, all this sensitive, breathing life, falls into pale, feeble, dead earth – and less than earth – into ashes. It is the same with ourselves. We look into an opened grave and shiver: a few bones, a handful of ash-grey dust.

Remember man
that dust thou art, 
and unto dust shalt thou return.

Ashes signify man’s overthrow by time. Our own swift passage, ours and not someone else’s, ours, mine. When at the beginning of Lent the priest takes the burnt residue of the green branches of the last Palm Sunday and inscribes with it on my forehead the sign of the cross, it is to remind me of my death.

Memento homo
quia hulvis est
et in pulverem reverteris.
(Romano Guardini, Sacred Signs)


I spent my earliest years at a Lutheran church, in a family of occasional attendees. I have vague memories of being very young and making crosses out of my Palm Sunday frond. Though my family didn’t continue attending church and I didn’t get involved again until my teenage years, the sense of the sacred stayed with me. During my exodus into mega-church Evangelicalism, this was the time of year when I most missed the anchoring, aching loveliness of liturgical worship. It was a palpable loss even if I couldn’t quite identify what was missing.


(And don’t even get me started on my angst when, while working at a church that had Saturday services, we had to celebrate Easter Sunday on Holy Saturday [Christ the Lord will rise tomorrow?] )


It wasn’t until my husband attended seminary at Nashotah House Theological Seminary that the pieces and parts came together for me, creating a cohesive journey that has deepened my longing for all of Jesus – all of the journey – all of sharing in Christ’s sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, so somehow to attain to the resurrection from the dead (Philippians 3.10-11). Everywhere you turn, during Lent, there is a reminder of it – from the crosses being veiled – shrouded – to the lack of ‘Alle–ia’ being spoken or sung anywhere for the duration of the penitent season. As a worship leader, that one had a profound effect on me. And imagine the joy at singing it on Easter morning after fasting from it for so long!


Nashotah House Maundy Thursday 2008 - an example of the shrouded cross. Photo by Micah Snell.

Nashotah House Maundy Thursday 2008 - an example of the shrouded cross. Photo by Micah Snell.


So, to begin, our hymn for Ash Wednesday comes from the 1982 Episcopal Hymnal, though like most others, I’m sure it’s published in many other places. This could well be a theme for the entire journey, and would be a great prayer for every morning. It’s sung in this hymnal to the simple tune St. Flavian, but could be easily sung to any setting.

Lord, who throughout these forty days, for us did fast and pray,

Teach us, with Thee, to mourn our sins, and close by Thee to stay.

As Thou with Satan didst contend and didst the vict’ry win,

O give us strength in Thee to fight, in Thee to conquer sin.

As Thou didst hunger, bear, and thirst, so teach us, gracious Lord,

To die to self, and chiefly live by Thy most holy word.

And through these days of penitence, and through Thy Passiontide,

Yea, evermore, in life and death, Jesus, with us abide.

Abide with us, that so, this life of suffering overpast,

An Easter of unending joy we may attain at last.
Claudia Frances Hernaman (1838-1898)

Born: Oct. 19, 1838, Addlestone, Surrey, England, Died: Oct. 10, 1898, Brussels, Belgium.


Claudia’s father was an Anglican priest, and her husband a minister and school inspector. She took an avid interest in children’s religious education, and some of her translations of Latin hymns were specifically for children. 


And, to close, from the Book of Common Prayer, an Ash Wednesday charge – 


I invite you, therefore, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.


Lenten Hymns – A Journey of Devotion

It’s hard to believe, but we are only a week away from Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the holiest contemplation of the year – the journey to the cross, culminating in the celebration of the empty tomb. Landing in a liturgical tradition has been a remarkable gift to me in experiencing the power of the cross in a deeper way, and I have discovered a wealth of hymnody that has helped me along the way.

To that end, and to mark this lenten season, I will be writing a series of reflections on some hymns that have caused me to stop and take a breath and ponder anew the cross of Christ – in order to better and more fully experience the true Alleluia celebration of the empty tomb. I hope you’ll join me here each week, beginning next Wednesday, February 25th. 

Let us, as fellow sojourners, not miss the blessing of the journey. Let us be like Jesus, who for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, scorning its shame.

That was the weirdest lunch I’ve ever made.

So, we’re living poor for a couple of weeks here – poorer than usual – meaning, no grocery accoutrements – use what you’ve got. The end.

Well, I had some ground beef that needed to be browned, so that I could use a bunch of it in some spaghetti sauce later in the week.

But I have no tomato soup which is, as every midwesterner knows, the base for any sauce/chili/goulash one might want to make.

So I took the meat… an onion and garlic… a can of spiced diced tomatoes.. a can of tomato sauce… chili powder… black beans… cumin… macaroni noodles [for filler]… and….

… frozen spinach that was, thankfully, thawed.

So it was basically chili with no soup.


Goulash, or something.

Served it up with shredded cheese, sour cream, and oyster crackers.

Strangely enough, the kids loved it, the hubby loved it, and it was a warm, filling lunch on a cold day.

I need to watch for the canned goods to go on sale. I guess I need to step foot in an Aldi – a store which, by the way, scares the heck out of me. I feel like I don’t know the secret handshake or something.

But sneaking spinach into a lunch that the kids actually ate?

Not a bad day.


From Where I Sit…


…the dog is chomping on his pig’s ear, the oldest is diagramming sentences, the middle boy is playing pod racer with his legos, the girl is coloring, and the baby is sleeping. The remnants of the pancake breakfast still linger, but it’s mostly cleaned up – just needs another wipe down. It’s standard issue here this morning.


This weekend we’ll have our annual congregational meeting at St. Michael’s, where the now-public news of the Assistant Rector’s upcoming departure, will be discussed. This is significant because the Assistant Rector happens to be my husband.  The economy has hit St. Mike’s hard – I suppose like any other place. But they can only afford an assistant until June 1. So we’re on the move again!  And it’s ok. We are eager to land somewhere and be part of a community for our children to settle in and make friends, but these years of our sojourning have been good – so good – for our family. For we are knit together… we are dependent on one another… our children are inseparable… we have the greatest dog ever… and we have the blessing of being connected to another community of faith. What a privilege!


Ministry life seems to me to be a transient life. And that, too, is ok with me, because it teaches me the greater truth that this life – this whole life – is a transient life, and this world is certainly not my home, nor my prize, nor my goal. 


My 2009 calendar is filling up with lots of fun events, lots of great gigs. My hands are healing up wonderfully – I am so grateful for that, I can’t even really describe it, and in fact I look down sometimes and I think, “I canNOT believe these surgeries happened! This thing for which I’ve been waiting for years is over and done..”. What a joy!


Back to it. Pray for Dad if you think of him. His heart, which has been a miracle heart since 1976, is failing. And pray for Terry, a dear friend whose heart is working at 10% capacity and has just been moved to the transplant list. Pray that he stays stable enough to receive the transplant.


With gratitude….