Sackcloth and Ashes

Happy Ash Wednesday!

Ash Wednesday being one of the more somber holy days, I'm unsure as to whether I should have ended that sentence with an exclamation point.  But not unsure enough to go back and change it.

So, in Mormondom,* we don't celebrate Ash Wednesday or observe Lent...not all Christian churches do.  It's mainly the Lutherans, Methodists, Anglicans, Roman Catholics and Presbyterians.  For those of you who aren't super familiar with the holy day, you can read a brief FAQ article from here.  Basically, though, Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent (the forty day period preceding Easter) and is practiced by the marking of foreheads with ashes, traditionally those from the burning of palms.

There are so many things about this ritual that I find so...heartening.  Of course, I personally enjoy the nod to ancient Hebraic rites of marking oneself with ashes in order to mourn (see Ezekiel here, Daniel here, Samuel here, Job here and more).  That geekery aside, I also think the symbolism found here is profound:  the public acknowledgement of an individual's state of separation from Deity and a recommitment and renewal of baptismal covenants.  Perhaps more importantly, for many, Ash Wednesday begins a forty day period of giving up some vice or bad habit in a display (more private than public, I would conjecture) of penitence.  This, really, is the crux of my holy envy.

I am really in love with the idea of committing myself to an intense period of laying down of a habit that actively separates me from my Heavenly Family with an eye toward making that change permanent.  Given, I'm not sure that's how some – or even most – practitioners of the Lenten fast regard the nature of the practice.

That being said, I have decided that I am going to be celebrating the Atonement and sacrifice of Jesus Christ with a Lenten fast this year.  Instead of giving up something with lesser eternal significance like chocolate or bread (the traditional meat is out – I'm already a vegetarian), I have decided to give up enmity.

I was reading President Benson's talk, "Beware of Pride" today and was pierced by his admonition that the core of pride is enmity.  In his words,
The central feature of pride is enmity–enmity toward God and enmity toward our fellow men.  Enmity means "hatred toward, hostility to, or a state of opposition."  It is the power by which Satan wishes to reign over us.

So here's my promise:  I will do my absolute best to halt any activity – or thought – that puts me in opposition with either those around me or my Godhead.  I will wear the awareness of this promise like a tefillin* throughout the Lenten period.  I will devote this time of change to become closer to Christ through becoming more like Him.

...And I will do it joyfully.

*Spellcheck didn't correct Mormondom above (or here).  Really, spellcheck?  That being the case, I looked it up in the dictionary and it is indeed a word.  Huh.  Do you think it would be acceptable in Scrabble?


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