Church of England Diocese of Norwich St. Peter, Sheringham

Reflection for Ash Wednesday

17 Feb 2021, 1 a.m.
Usually on Ash Wednesday we would join together in Church for a service that seeks to focus our minds and hearts on the fragility of being human, along with examining our conscience to see where in our lives or in our relationships we may have done wrong or gone awry.

Maybe we will be called to repent of how we treat others or ourselves and as it says in one particular prayer of confession, not only in what we have done but also in what we might have left undone. What we should have said that we left unsaid.

To be human is hard. To be human is to err. It is in part how we learn, grow and build relationships. Not only with family, friends and co-workers but also how we learn and grow in relationship with God.

Problems arise however when we think we do not need God to help us sort out these parts of ourselves. Time and time again in both the Old and New Testament and as it is in our readings for today, we see people in various situations where they have done wrong, caused pain or made bad choices and have fought long and hard to not bring it before God and ask for help.

Is this a part of being human, this stubbornness? Do we dislike being told what to do or made to feel small when we have to admit we are not perfect? Maybe we all have a bit of “I want to do what I want to do!” coursing through us?

Sitting with where we have fallen short is no easy thing. It can throw up a lot of uncomfortable feelings about ourselves and those around us. If we try and examine these things without looking at them through the eyes of our loving and forgiving God, we might end up visiting some dark places and it is very difficult to want to do that.

As Lent begins this is what we are called to do. We are called to do it with Jesus as our guide. As Jesus did when he took himself away for forty days and forty nights, we need to gradually, carefully and sensitively open ourselves to where examining our conscience takes us, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.

St. Ignatius came up with a structured and safe way to do this called ‘The Examen’. The Examen is a twice daily technique to prayerfully reflect on where God’s presence is in our lives and to help us discern God’s direction for us. Like anything that might be good for us, it isn’t easy to implement or keep up, but the Ignatian Examen or something similarly structured can help us when we are not sure where to start.

We haven’t got to perfect this form of examination and repentance this Lent. Our Christian calling is lifelong, with our discipleship and journeying with Jesus lasting the whole of our lives and beyond. There is no rush, no panic. It takes time and courage to delve deeper within ourselves. We can start small. We can dip a toe in. We can see how it feels to look a little deeper at where we could have been better, kinder, more attentive, more tolerant, more patient, more trusting, more faithful.

We must try not to hide from these things as much as we might want to. Remember we are not doing this alone. We are holding on to Jesus throughout. He has been there, he knows and he will help us carry what we find. He will guide us in how to change that which needs changing within ourselves. Let us accept this Lenten invitation to journey with Christ knowing that he is always with us when we uncover our failings and he can heal and carry what sometimes we feel we cannot carry alone.

So even though we are missing the physical ash and oil being placed on to our foreheads in the sign of the cross this Ash Wednesday, it’s important to remember that this is just an outward symbol of an inner truth that God has given to us all. Yes, we are of dust and to dust we shall return. We are human with all of the flaws and faults that this brings, but so too are we all God’s children, loved beyond any earthly love we can imagine. We are saved over and over by the one who died for each of us and every last one of our sins. Jesus who is with us here now, waiting with open arms to journey with us through all of the stumbling, self examination, healing and growing; as he leads us ever forward to a place of eternal peace and rest in God.

Natalie Rees
Ordinand St. Peter’s Church, Sheringham.