Unsettling Ash Wednesdays
Yesterday (Feb. 22), millions of Christians around the world approached a minister who drew a black cross on their foreheads. Many did so in a church sanctuary, and others on a sidewalk as part of “Ashes to Go.” The latter effort seeks to bring the sacred out from its hiding behind stained-glass windows and into the streets.
As Ash Wednesday kicked off the holy season of Lent to prepare Christians for reflecting on the cross and the empty tomb, some ministers and churches sought ways to help believers connect the dots between their faith and the world. Rather than merely viewing Lent as a season of spiritual introspection, such efforts recognize the inherent socio-political implications of the Good News.
That idea was the premise behind the new Unsettling Lent devotional book from Word&Way and Chalice Press. It’s exciting to see some individuals and churches using this guide this year. For instance, National City Christian Church in Washington, D.C., is creating video reflections on the devotionals and even held an Ash Wednesday service with the theme “Unsettled.” First Baptist Church in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, is holding weekly Sunday discussions on the devotionals. Oak Hills Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, is using the devotions for a Wednesday night Bible study. And many other churches and individuals are also walking through it.
With this understanding of how faith should move beyond personal piety, we noticed how various Ash Wednesday services yesterday brought attention to significant social issues. Like a service in England lamenting the environmental impact of a large coal mine, a service reflecting on the last words of people recently executed in the United States, and a service by a Catholic advocacy group considering the need for slavery reparations. Each of those gatherings on Wednesday explored how the messages of the Lenten season should impact our public witness as Christians.
So this issue of A Public Witness will report on each of those three services as glimpses of how this season of spiritual reflection can inspire public action. Even for those whose congregations don’t participate in the liturgical practices of Ash Wednesday or Lenten fasting, these services offer insights into how faith can tumble out of the sanctuary.