The prayer above is my Ash Wednesday prayer for this year. It is really a prayer for the whole of Lent. The image is created from ashes from my mask specifically burnt for Ash Wednesday. Both flow out of the depth of pain in my heart as I watch the war unfolding in Ukraine. A sickness settles in my stomach. Images of Ukrainians praying in the streets fill my mind as I watch a nation struggling to maintain its independence while one man seeks to re-write its story. The thrust for power does terrible things to people and I am reminded of how Jesus did not seek after power but after justice. He did not incite war and violence but cried out for peace. How do we help bring that into being during this Lenten season?
It’s a struggling time this beginning of Lent and I struggle more than anything with my chosen theme for the season “Finding Beauty in the Ashes of Lent.” At the moment it is hard to see beauty in the ashes of the war in Ukraine, but then I look more closely and become aware of new life pushing up through the concrete. I see a courageous leader fighting beside his people. I see Ukrainians praying in the streets and in the subways and the churches. And I see them joined by people around the world not just praying but taking action through sanctions that will require sacrifices for all of us. Higher gas prices and food prices too.
The efficacy of the prayer is often measured by the degree to which the individual is willing to become involved in actually working in the world to meet these needs. A man may share in his prayer his concern for peace, and yet, in his own little world and yet in his own little world, be unwilling to change his private attitude of antagonism or prejudice toward his fellows. Obviously such prayer would be meaningless. (Meditations of the Heart 26)
So as Lent begins I ask myself: how will I help meet the needs of those made vulnerable by the war. I have been researching the organizations we have supported in the past to see which will be most effective in the relief efforts – not just for those still in Ukraine but also for the hundreds of thousands fleeing the country. World Vision and World Relief come to mind but I am sure there are others I will think of in the future. I want to be open to help financially wherever we are able. That is a small way in which we can contribute to the creation of beauty in the midst of ashes.
Then I think – we are financially secure at the moment and able to absorb the higher gas and food prices, but there are so many in my own neighborhood who are not able to. I wonder, are there people I should buy a tank of gas for each week? Or a bag of groceries? Perhaps my support of the local food bank and my church’s discretionary fund which goes to vulnerable and needy people is another way that I can stand against the war in Ukraine. Perhaps this is one way that I can create beauty in the midst of the ashes too.
Maybe it requires a change of attitude too. I resent the higher gas and food prices. I want to complain about them. We are used to cheap food and cheap gas, and resent increases in prices. Maybe absorbing these increases without complaint is one way I can bring a little bit of beauty in the midst of the ashes too.
Last week, Lilly and I facilitated a wonderful virtual Lenten retreat Finding Beauty in the Ashes of Lent. It was therapeutic and renewing. Its theme seems even more important this week and I really do encourage you to take advantage of its availability now as an online course. We all need the renewal that creating beauty out of ashes can give us, and the journey through Lent is one way to find that. I hope you will join us in the journey.
Prayerfully consider one way that you could help create beauty out of the ashes of the war and of other situations where people are particularly vulnerable. What is God nudging you to do as you begin this journey through Lent?