For Roman Catholics, today is Ash Wednesday and the first day of Lent. In 43 more days, it will be Easter. When I was growing up as a Roman Catholic, this was an exciting time: though it was still cold and snowy, springtime was coming soon. For others, Ash Wednesday is the day after Shrove Tuesday, otherwise known as Mardi gras. The partying is over, time to get to the serious business of repenting and fasting.
Like most Christian holidays, Ash Wednesday isn’t a biblical holiday in quite the same way as, for example, Passover. To the best of my recollection, nothing particularly interesting happened to Jesus 43 days before his resurrection. The number forty was considered special, and perhaps holy, in Judaism and recurs in many stories from Noah’s flood, to Moses’ asking of repentance after the golden calf incident, and even to the amount of time Jesus was tempted by Satan in the desert.
But while the holiday itself isn’t biblical, the key tradition of the holiday is: Catholics will be given ashes on their foreheads during Ash Wednesday services. This sign of mourning and repentance may be one of the oldest (and oddest) artifact of early Jewish culture that survives in modern Christianity.
My heart has been heavy this week and I found myself pondering the imponderables of life and death, sickness and health. My wife and I just returned from a weekend in Los Angeles, attending a beautiful memorial service for her departed grandmother. But on top of that, I have just learned that one of my dear friends is fighting for his very life. My heart is heavy and I find myself turning to the bible… though I admit it’s in my very peculiar way. Life and death is a topic the bible says quite a bit about.
If I had more time, there are two things I’d like to do: update this blog more regularly, and spend more time with my friend Jeremy. But since I can’t do the former, at least let me tell you about the latter because he’s just announced his new blog and I’d like to share it with you. (Judging from his posts, he may have been updating and not telling people for quite a while…)
Jeremy is one of life’s more interesting souls, a man of stubborn contradictions and surprises. He also happens to be brilliant and there are few things I enjoy more than inviting him over to ponder biblical imponderables. He’s also studying to be a rabbi, although in a non-traditional way, under the tutelage of Rabbi Natan Margalit. Along the way, he’s been blogging and I’d like to share two of his posts with you:
All Beginnings Are Difficult – A personal essay about Jeremy’s struggles with his experience of love, and how this experience of love has affected his ability to become a rabbi. It’s a reflection on Genesis 1 and the creation story.
Indeed, we learn in Talmud that God’s main creative act after Creation has everything to do with love: the creation of a new family through the ceremony of marriage. Marriage is nothing if not an intentional limitation of options. Commitment means eating this ice cream cone, and not throwing it away when a more appealing flavor comes along, or when the store next door charges a nickel less.
The beauty of Jer. 17:7 is its reciprocity. The trust that exists between the righteous person and God is very much a two-way street. It isn’t so much trust that anything in particular will happen; it is more a matter of trust in God, or faith in God, and God having trust or faith in the individual.
I hope you enjoy his blog. I have three posts in the draft folder. Certainly I’ll get time to finish one soon!