by Carol Dixon,
Create in me a clean heart, God – a hymn for Ash Wednesday
Tune: Tallis’ Canon
Create in me a clean heart, God,
a heart that focuses on you,
that emulates your living Word
in everything I say and do;
A humble mindset centred on
your will for me in all my days,
a renewed spirit helping me
to live a life of constant praise.
Help me to work for justice, peace,
sharing the gifts you give with all,
to love with joy abundantly
and faithfully follow your call.
(Carol Dixon © United Reformed Church Handbook 2021, used with permission).
I pick up a stone
thinking it is bread
and then my sand-filled eyes
see that it is just a stone.
I’m disappointed, God,
I feel betrayed,
as if it is your fault, not mine.
It’s the same
with our sins and sorrows:
we pick up a stone of disobedience
expecting it to give us what we desire most;
a stone of heart-ache
hoping it will bring happiness
instead of offering them to you
to be transformed by your redeeming love.
We pick up the stones
of the hurts of the world:
violence and poverty,
disaster and starvation,
wanting you to turn them into bread:
to solve every painful situation:
those of our own making,
those caused by greed.
your broken body became
fresh bread for us all;
feed us with your love, we pray,
so that we may nurture our famished world.
(Carol Dixon (© United Reformed Church Prayer Handbook 2017, used with permission)
The idea of the above prayer came to me after my son, a farm worker, came home after spending the afternoon removing unwanted stones from a field before ploughing and remarked that one of the stones he’d picked up looked like the bread bun he had for lunch. I also came across an article on the web which made an interesting analogy about picking stones (see below)
“Being raised on a farm has a few duties that no one is eager to do. One of them is picking stones. In the spring, when the dirt is turned over before planting, it seems that the first thing that sprouts is a new crop of stones. You cleared the fields the year before, but each year they return.
It’s important to get them out of the way. Young sprouts aren’t strong enough to move the heavy stones. It stunts their growth and sometimes kills them. So you bend over time after time, each stone getting heavier as you calculate the tonnage you must be moving and grumble about it under your breath.
One of the things I do is teach basic internet skills to seniors. The courage, commitment and perseverance of this group never stops impressing me. In the face of trifocals, small print, arthritic hands and lack of computer experience, they come in week after week, sometimes repeating the four week class three or four times, gaining a little more each time and somehow being encouraged by these small steps in what proves to be a stony field for them.” The full article can be found here.
Ash Wednesday Prayer – Encountering God in a secret place – our own ‘Poustinia’*
[Isaiah 58 1-12; Matt 6 1-6, 16-21]
LENT can be a season of refreshment and renewal – a healthy balance of work, rest, prayer as we give up time in busy lives to sort out our relationship with God, rediscovering God’s perspective on life and actively work at ways of turning world values around in sacrificial giving – of our time, our talents, our possessions and our service.
Sung Response: Lord have mercy upon us, Christ have mercy upon us
Lord have mercy upon us, grant us peace.
We pay you lip service, not life service,
dabbling with our designer diets,
fussing over famine lunches,
we cut out the extras and give up
our daily ration of ‘goodies’ –
play acting at poverty.
In this sacrificial season
change us in mind and heart,
so that the discomfort of Jesus’ love
penetrates our comfortable lives
and instead of hoarding our riches
in straw-filled barns, grudgingly
sharing our surplus with those in need,
we learn the true meaning of living for others
as we journey with Jesus to the Cross.
Sung response: Lord have mercy upon us, Christ have mercy upon us
Lord have mercy upon us, grant us peace.
Words of Assurance: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”
To all those who turn to him, Jesus says:
“Your sins are forgiven”.
He also says: “Follow me”
Lent is generally recognised as a season of spiritual renewal, when we look once again at our relationship with God and try to discover a healthy balance of work, rest and prayer. In so doing, we can rediscover God’s perspective on life, and find ways of forsaking worldly values, in order to live more sacrificially. In engaging on this spiritual quest, we could create our own ‘poustinia’. The word is Russian and it means ‘desert’. However it doesn’t mean a sandy waste. In Russian, it has the connotation of the 4th century Egyptian desert fathers who went our into the wilderness focus totally on God – much as some of the early Celtic monks did on bleak islands around Britain. To a Russian, a poustinia was a lonely place where salience 7 solitude could be found, where ‘heaven meets earth’. However it was not necessarily situated away from the village. Some people remained in their own homes and would go to a particular spot each day in order to pray and meditate and enter into a time of inner pilgrimage. It is a place of utter simplicity, free of distractions. The Russian poustinik would have no books or pictures, except possibly and icon and only the Bible to read. They would read it on their knees, unmindful of any academic questions of interpretation for tot them the Bible was the incarnation of the Word. In creating our poustinia, three things should be borne in mind: we must recognise that this is God’s place, a hallowed place, where we retreat specifically to seek God.
Information supplied by the Northumbria Community from Poustinia by Catherine de Hueck Doherty’, used with permission of Fr Robert Wild, Madonna House, Combermere, Ontario. (© United Reformed Church Prayer Handbook 2003, used with permission.)
Desert-ed by God
[Isaiah 55 1-9; Psalm 63 1-8; I Cor 10 1-13]
The desert is hot and arid,
it saps my strength,
my eyes burn for a glimpse of God;
Parched I pant for pools of living water;
I long to lounge again by the life-giving streams,
and let God’s provident love flood my life.
renewer of our strength in times of testing,
you provide bread for our journey,
and springs of water in the hard places
if only we know where to look;
Forgive our flagging faith,
turn our fasting to feasting,
remove our stone-filled sandals
and humbly wash our feet,
until restored, renewed and re-invigorated
we walk with those who stumble on stony paths,
and plant seeds of joyful hope
in the desert places of our world.
Pray for countries hit by frequent droughts, for those trying to scratch a living from desert land; Pray for people forced to travel miles to seek water and those whose water supplies are polluted and unsafe.
(Carol Dixon ©United Reformed Church Prayer Handbook 2003, used with permission)
The above post was used with permission by © 2021, URC Prayer Handbook; Conversations, The United Reformed Church.
Photo above by Ahna Ziegler on unsplash.com