Yesterday was Ash Wednesday.
In the faith tradition of my youth, it would have been merely Wednesday. There were only two liturgical days in our church -- Christmas and Easter. All of the Lents, Advents, and assorted other names were what other churches did.
I have mentioned several times that living in Mexico has broadened my perspective on faith. Daily I learn there is a lot to admire in how other people approach their beliefs. That lesson has come primarily from two sources.
The first is my Roman Catholic neighbors. As I have traveled around Mexico, I have watched Mexicans follow their rituals. The very rituals I was taught to consider as nothing more than hollow repetition.
But that has not been my experience. The worshipers I have watched are praying to the same God I pray to -- and often in the very same prayer language. Because I do not find ritual satisfying does not mean that other people cannot use it effectively in their own lives.
The second source is the church I attend in Villa Obregon -- San Patricio by the Sea. We are a multi-denominational church. With an incredible assortment of denominations within our congregation.
During the years I have attended, the pastors have managed to construct services where everyone feels welcome to worship God. That flexibility has taught us that our basic faith is far stronger than the slight divisions in our theology.
We are blessed -- in order to be a blessing. The topic of our pastor's messages this season.
And Wednesday was another day to experience the blessings God has given us.
The church sponsored a Prayer Path. People were invited to stop by and walk through seven separate stations that would focus their prayer experience.
The concept was very simple. At each station, there was a chair and a script. The script included prayers and scripture focusing the reader on an aspect of prayer.
These were the stations:
- Preparing your heart -- a time to sit and quiet yourself. Prayer is a conversation between God and us. But too often, we allow our lives to break in on what should be a focused experience.
- Thanks for creation. We were encouraged to think of specific blessings God had given us in the past hour, week, and year. And to write them on poster paper at the table.
- Acknowledge God's love for us through the crucifixion. The Messiah came to relieve us of our burdens. Instead, we often cling to them. He asks us to let them go. A box of rocks was provided. We were to choose one to represent the aspect of our lives we most needed to see gone. I chose a very big rock. (I often suffer the Peter failing.)
- Think of others. This was an opportunity to pray for others and to ask for God's guidance in how our hands and hearts could help that prayer come to pass. We lit candles.
- A plea for forgiveness. Because we often fail on our path of faith, we need God's forgiveness. We were offered the opportunity to serve communion to ourselves. And to consider that during Lent, less is more:
Less Guilt/More Grace
Less Stuff/More Freedom
Less Me/More God and Others
Less Noise/More Listening
Less Strife/More Peace
Less Fear/More Love
- We were also reminded that just as the sea smooths the rough edges of glass to make beautiful sea glass, God is doing the same in our lives. As a reminder, we were offered a piece of local sea glass.
- We are a new creation. A sand box allowed us to put our bare feet prints in the sand as a reminder of the new creature we are.
For me, it was surprisingly affecting. It was a perfect combination of the elements of an effective prayer life. But, best of all, it was an opportunity for all of our faith community to experience the same walk -- each in our individual way.
And for me, a memorable Ash Wednesday.