Lent is a time for contemplation and for going a bit deeper.

A young white man standing in a door frame, illuminated by the candles on the cake for his birthday.
My son Johnny.
Credit: Nora Sanders
Published On: March 8, 2019

Somewhat out of keeping with the liturgical calendar, Ash Wednesday was a day of celebration at our house. Ash Wednesday this year fell on my son’s birthday! Far from fasting, we had a hearty dinner with chocolate birthday cake and ice cream for dessert. That is what you do on birthdays, Ash Wednesday or not.

Earlier in the day, I had ashes smudged on my forehead in the shape of a cross at our Ash Wednesday chapel service. I was touched by the words of our worship leader, the Rev. Lauren Hodgson, as she described Lent as “a chance for us to fast from those things that distract us from God and from one another," and “a time to strip away that which weighs us down and is heavy in our soul.” Though I generally connect more with words and thoughts than with ceremony, I also found myself moved as I watched my colleagues step forward to have their foreheads or hands marked with the sign of the cross.

I experience Lent as a somber time, but not a depressing time. Lent comes at the time of year when we are still in the midst of winter, but are seeing the days begin to stretch longer. It is a time, (even in a year like this when Easter will come well into April), when we look ahead to the new growth of spring but we so clearly are not there yet. I appreciate this time for contemplation, for going a bit deeper, for finding the places where pain and joy and fear and hope intersect.

In the same day that I received the solemn words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” I joined in the singing of “Happy Birthday” as I placed the cake with lighted candles in front of my son. How improbable that these two experiences would be connected in the course of a single day. In another way, how absolutely typical that two such different experiences would be connected in the course of a single day.

In this Lenten time, may we find time to reflect on the paradoxes we each encounter in our journeys between birth and death, and through these reflections find ourselves closer to finding God’s purpose and presence in our lives.



 — Nora Sanders is General Secretary of The United Church of Canada. 

This message was originally sent to subscribers to the General Secretary's letter, "Note from Nora." Subscribe here.