On Ash Wednesday as we inaugurate the Lenten season of turning, the liturgy reminds us of our mortality—“from dust to dust.” We enter this season soberly, knowing that we are called once again to turn, to be cleansed, washed, purged of all that keeps us separated from God. As I write this reflection, a steady winter rain streams through the highest reaches of the coastal redwoods, soaks through the foliage, and seeps into the drought-parched earth below. For over a decade, our Southern California landscape has been dried out and thirsty. Now flows the welcome water: cleansing, healing, and nourishing.
Over and over the Psalter offers us poetry with which to express our welcome for cleansing waters. Today’s psalm sings lavishly of the ways we long for water: Cleanse me from my iniquity, wash me of my sins; wash me and I will be whiter than snow; cleanse me with hyssop; create in me a pure heart. We sing of our longing to be unburdened, cleansed of the weight of our careless living and all that estranges us from our source of life.
In the center of my garden that now so gratefully welcomes the precious rainfall sits a small solar birdbath. How often I have watched with delight when some house finch or scrub jay swoops down and perches on the edge of the fountain; then, peering about, hops into the water flapping and flitting, then hops out rustling its feathers, then hops back in again for the sheer joy of the cleansing water. Pure joy. Pure delight. Psalm 51, for all its poetry that cries out our sin and our need to be cleansed, ends on a different note: “Restore me to the joy of your salvation.” I like to think of those finches and jays in the water that then spread their wet wings and soar up into the air, cleansed.
In your mercy, O Lord, cleanse us and draw us toward you to soar into the joy of your love. Amen.
In this first week of Lent, we prepare our hearts for a period of reflection. We think about areas of our lives in which we might be falling short of God’s desires. The problem of sin enters the human story at the very beginning, for Adam and Eve choose to follow their own wisdom rather than guidance from God. The psalmist highlights the importance of recognizing our sin and asking for forgiveness, which God is quick to give. In Romans, Paul argues that we all partake in the broken human condition because we all have sinned as Adam did. The story of Jesus in the desert admonishes us to be on guard against the deception of our fleshly desires and our pride.
Read Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7. How might this story help you turn from superbia to humilitas throughout your Lenten journey?
Read Psalm 32. What seeming dichotomies comprise the full picture of your life of faith?
Read Romans 5:12-19. How do you sense the differences Paul draws between Adam and Christ prompting you to turn toward God?
Read Matthew 4:1-11. What are your own temptations? How does Jesus’ response to his temptations guide you in responding to yours?
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