By Father Casey Shobe
Ash Wednesday is not everyone’s favorite, even among clergy, but every year I look forward to it. I feel this deep sense of relief to start Lent in this way – kneeling for a long time to make a thorough confession, remembering that I will die, and hearing the invitation to a set of disciplines that Christians for 2,000 years have used to grow closer to Christ. It doesn’t feel like a “downer” to me; it feels honest and holy.
In my sermon, I returned to the Recombobulation Area in the Milwaukee Airport, which I spoke about a few Sundays ago, and invited us to consider Lent as a season-long act of recombobulation. We’re invited to spend 40 days pondering the gap between who we are and who God would have us be, and doing the sorts of things that can tighten that distance.
And here I want to caution us all, including myself. There is a strong temptation to give things up in Lent, out of a spirit of habit or obligation. Many folks fast from things like chocolate and Diet Coke and fast food. But I can’t help but wonder…are any of these fasts really helping us close that gap? Are they really the things standing in the way of deeper and more faithful relationship with God? Are we really getting spiritually recombobulated by passing on coffee for a few weeks?
As we begin this season, I hope you’ll give careful consideration to how you will use this holy time. On Ash Wednesday, I offered a few suggestions, none of which will win any originality prizes, but I hope will inspire your own discernment on personal Lenten disciplines:
- Do a sin inventory. The point is not to heap contempt upon yourself, but so you have an honest awareness of the ways your behavior separates you from God. Because the world has plenty of Christians who are obsessed with the sins of other people, and not nearly enough Christians who have a healthy awareness of their own. I like to use the self-examination in the St. Augustine’s Prayer Book, and I invite you to a Reconciliation Retreat on the morning of Saturday, March 28, to receive more guidance on this work.
- Fast from all non-essential or work-related social media and internet usage. In my opinion, all our staring at screens has not made us any smarter or better people. It simply fills the spaces that could be quiet, when we might be able to have a thought or hear the birds or listen for the voice of God.
- Pray every day, and throughout the day. I find the simpler, the better. “Thank you, God,” and “Help me, God,” are prayers, and they are holy. And try to discipline yourself to pray for those who you know will vote differently from you this November. Our country, as the Presiding Bishop recently wrote in his Lenten message, is in “a time of profound division and genuine crisis of national character. This is not a matter of party or partisanship, but of deep concern for the soul of America…Now is a time for the deeper spiritual engagement with the realities that are beneath our conflicts in order that God might help and heal the soul of the nation and the integrity of our faith.”
- Keep the Sabbath holy. Preserve one day a week when you don’t work, don’t check your email, don’t run errands, and fight our societal addiction to busyness.
- Read the Bible every day and believe that God can actually speak to you through it. It’s called God’s Word for a reason.
Whatever you do, embrace the gift of Lent. It’s blessed Christians for generations, and it can bless you, too. Start closing the gap between who you are and who you believe God wants you to be. Let the forgiveness and mercy of God sink into your soul these next 40 days, and flow out through new actions and behaviors.
I’m praying for you.
See you this weekend.
Ash Wednesday Sermon.
The St. Augustine’s Prayer Book is available for purchase in the Kay Andrews Bookstore at Transfiguration or you can find it here. The guide for self-examination begins on page 119.
Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s Lent Message can be accessed here.
Fr. Casey became the fourth rector of Transfiguration in October 2014 after having served churches in Rhode Island and Houston. He is married to Mtr. Melody Shobe, also an Episcopal priest, and they have two daughters, Isabelle and Adelaide. Fr. Casey grew up in Temple, Texas, and holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Texas at Austin. His Master of Divinity was earned at Virginia Theological Seminary and his Doctor of Ministry at the School of Theology at the University of the South (Sewanee). He loves playing golf, road cycling, hiking, brewing beer, and working in his yard. You can contact Father Casey by email.