“Divine Sorrow” and Remembering: Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent which asks us to recall and to remember. Quite literally, it beckons us to call again and to member again that which has been muted and torn apart. We recall our brokenness and our communal origins. “Remember man that you are dust and unto dust you shall return” echoes the liturgy year after year.

This echo has the potential of becoming another redundancy, another  ritual, another formality if we aren’t careful. Instead of recalling and remembering, we simply re-hear and then re-enter our lives none the different.

Throughout the centuries, the Church has seen Ash Wednesday as a commencement of remembering through denial and sacrifice. As the calendar-journey through Jesus’ life moves forward, we find that our lives are paradoxically made more like him as we participate in the sacrificial life he embodied. Yet, Ash Wednesday and Lent are not about self-sacrifice and denial for their own sakes. No, says Joan Chittister:

Indeed, Lent, we learn on Ash Wednesday, is not about abnegation, about denying ourselves for the sake of denying ourselves. It is about much more than that. It is about opening our hearts one more time to the Word of God in hope that, this time, hearing it anew, we might allow ourselves to become new as a result of it. It is the call to prayer, to liturgy, to the co-creation of the world. It is about rising to the full stature of human reflection and, as a result, accepting the challenge to become fully alive, fully human rather than simply grossly, abysmally, self-centered human.

In the early church, Ash Wednesday became a time to wear penitential garments, to do public penance, to be banished from the church, to be sprinkled with the sign of human degradation. In a church more knowledgeable now about what it means to be “embodied” – to be gold dust in vessels made of clay – it is the moment of accepting what we have allowed ourselves to become and beginning to be all the rest of what we are meant to be.

Clearly, the voice of Lent is not a dour one. It is a call to remember who we are and where we have come from and why. The voice of Lent is the cry to become new again, to live on newly no matter what our life has been like until now and to live fully.

And so there is a “divine sorrow” that accompanies Ash Wednesday. It is not a permanent sorrow or an emotional depression. Rather, it is an impetus to move beyond while still fully recognizing what is there.; to see who we are and what we have become and then clearing space in our lives for God to re-member us.

I was reminded of this video this morning while reading N.T. Wright’s Lent for Everyone: A Daily Devotional.

How does divine sorrow sit with you?

What in your life needs to be remembered and recalled?

Later today I’ll be posting about “Longings and Presence”. I hope you’ll join me then.


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