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Thursday, March 02, 2006

Ash Wednesday - preparing for a time to come

Long-time readers of this blog will understand that Miss Eagle tries to be aware of the seasons. I believe that we should be more alert to seasonal changes in our own locales and environment and not just reverting to the default seasons starting on March 1, June 1, September 1 and December 1. Similarly, there are seasons within the great faiths. I am Christian so I try to be alert to the major spiritual seasons of Christianity and the lessons they have for us.

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday in the Western tradition of Christianity. This marks the beginning of Lent. Lent is a period of prayer and penance, discipline and denial. In short, it is a period of reflection. With this in mind, The Eagle's Nest will - hopefully - take on a more reflective mood.

Too begin our Lenten reflection, here are the readings from Ash Wednesday.

Joel 2:12-13 (The Message)
The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by
Eugene H. Peterson

Change Your Life
But there's also this, it's not too late--
GOD's personal Message!-
"Come back to me and really mean it!
Come fasting and weeping, sorry for your sins!"

Change your life, not just your clothes.
Come back to GOD, your God.
And here's why: God is kind and merciful.
He takes a deep breath, puts up with a lot,
This most patient God, extravagant in love,
always ready to cancel catastrophe

Isaiah 58:1-12 (The Message)

Your Prayers Won't Get Off the Ground
"Shout! A full-throated shout!
Hold nothing back--a trumpet-blast shout!
Tell my people what's wrong with their lives,
face my family Jacob with their sins!
They're busy, busy, busy at worship,
and love studying all about me.
To all appearances they're a nation of right-living people--
law-abiding, God-honoring.
They ask me, "What's the right thing to do?'
and love having me on their side.
But they also complain,
"Why do we fast and you don't look our way?
Why do we humble ourselves and you don't even notice?'
"Well, here's why:
"The bottom line on your "fast days' is profit.
You drive your employees much too hard.
You fast, but at the same time you bicker and fight.
You fast, but you swing a mean fist.
The kind of fasting you do
won't get your prayers off the ground.
Do you think this is the kind of fast day I'm after:
a day to show off humility?
To put on a pious long face
and parade around solemnly in black?
Do you call that fasting,
a fast day that I, GOD, would like?
"This is the kind of fast day I'm after:
to break the chains of injustice,
get rid of exploitation in the workplace,
free the oppressed, cancel debts.
What I'm interested in seeing you do is:
sharing your food with the hungry,
inviting the homeless poor into your homes,
putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad,
being available to your own families.
Do this and the lights will turn on,
and your lives will turn around at once.
Your righteousness will pave your way.
The GOD of glory will secure your passage.
Then when you pray, GOD will answer.
You'll call out for help and I'll say, "Here I am.'
"If you get rid of unfair practices, quit blaming victims,
quit gossiping about other people's sins,

A Full Life in the Emptiest of Places
If you are generous with the hungry
and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out,
Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness,
your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight.
I will always show you where to go.
I'll give you a full life in the emptiest of places--
firm muscles, strong bones.
You'll be like a well-watered garden,
a gurgling spring that never runs dry.
You'll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew,
rebuild the foundations from out of your past.
You'll be known as those who can fix anything,
restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate,
make the community livable again.

Matthew 6:1-16 (The Message)
The World Is Not a Stage
"Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you don't make a performance out of it. It might be good theatre, but the God who made you won't be applauding.
"When you do something for someone else, don't call attention to yourself. You've seen them in action, I'm sure--"play-actors' I call them--treating prayer meeting and street corner alike as a stage, acting compassionate as long as someone is watching, playing to the crowds. They get applause, true, but that's all they get. When you help someone out, don't think about how it looks. Just do
it--quietly and unobtrusively. That is the way your God, who conceived you in love, working behind the scenes, helps you out.

Pray with Simplicity
"And when you come before God, don't turn that into a theatrical production either. All these people making a regular show out of their prayers, hoping for stardom! Do you think God sits in a box seat?
"Here's what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won't be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.
"The world is full of so-called prayer warriors who are prayer-ignorant. They're full of formulas and programs and advice, peddling techniques for getting what you want from God. Don't fall for that nonsense. This is your Father you are dealing with, and he knows better than you what you need. With a God like this loving you, you can pray very simply. Like this:
Our Father in heaven,
Reveal who you are.
Set the world right;
Do what's best--
as above, so below.
Keep us alive with three square meals.
Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.
Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.
You're in charge!
You can do anything you want!
You're ablaze in beauty!
Yes. Yes. Yes.

"In prayer there is a connection between what God does and what you do. You can't get forgiveness from God, for instance, without also forgiving others. If you refuse to do your part, you cut yourself off from God's part.
"When you practice some appetite-denying discipline to better concentrate on God, don't make a production out of it. It might turn you into a small-time celebrity but it won't make you a saint.