A Message from Alan B. Ward…

Ashes to Ashes-Earth to Earth

Ash Wednesday (which was this past Wednesday) began the liturgical season of Lent for 2019. It is a day dedicated to recalling where we come from and where we are going. Lent runs for the six Sundays between now and Easter (which this year is on April 21). The 40 days-Sundays are not counted-associated with Lent commemorate the 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness seeing tempted by the Devil-Matthew 4:1-11, Luke 4:1-13. Traditionally it was the time when new converts to the Christian faith prepared for baptism on Easter Sunday.

Lent has come to be a season when we focus on the pursuit of personal holiness. Followers of Jesus often choose to fast or "giving up something" to replicate the sacrifice of Jesus' journey into the desert. But we don't just give up something to test our willpower, we do it to draw closer to God. This is why we often take up some Lenten discipline like reading a daily devotional, participating in a Bible and/or book study, or praying through a Lenten Calendar. The Stations of the Cross, a devotional commemoration of Jesus's final hours on Earth, is another common practice during Lent, particularly in Roman Catholic churches. The idea is that these practices we take up would replace the thing(s) we gave up for Lent, making us less likely to return to it (them) after Lent is over.

While the pursuit of personal holiness is where we begin, it is never where we end; personal piety always happens in the larger context of relationships with the people in the world around us-and even with the planet itself.

If our own personal transformation does nothing to make the world a better place (i.e., to transform the world) we might need to question how much value it has.

From the very beginning, there is a clear connection established between God, human beings, and planet Earth. The name of the first human created contains the connection. In Hebrew, the word adamah means ground. In Genesis 2:7, we read that Adam came from the "dust of the ground". His name in Hebrew roughly translates to "man from the red earth".

The word human is derived from the Latin word humus, which means soil or ground, and the Latin word humanus, which means man. The etymology of our species' name shows that we are "earth-bound" beings.

Humans are the pinnacle of God's creation, intended to be caretakers of the "Garden" God made for them, and to work with God in continuing the good work of creation-Genesis 1:26-31. Of course, almost from the start, that purpose gets distorted by our sin-our choices to turn away from God and work against his design for us and set ourselves up as masters of our own domain-Genesis 3. Nevertheless, the call for humanity to care for the world God has created persists as a minor chord running all throughout the song of Scripture. (For those interested in tracing that thread throughout the Bible in more detail, the Green Bible is a great resource-https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Green_Bible.)

Caring for the planet we call home is thus a mandate from God from the beginning, which makes it an important spiritual practice for us to pursue today. To that end, I call your attention to a different sort of Lenten Calendar, which you can download it from http://ipldmv.org/lent. (Note there are calendars for Maryland, Virginia, and DC-as well as a Spanish version.) We also made a small number of print copies of the Maryland calendar available at Good Shepherd, and placed them with other Lenten materials we have this year. This calendar offers scripture and thoughts about-and often suggests an action you can take to pursue-creation care for each of the days between now and Easter. I hope you will take a look and use the season ahead to draw closer to God-and to the Earth.

From the website referenced above: "May this season serve as a wake-up call to be mindful of the ways that our daily choices impact both our common home and all those with whom we share it, especially people living in poverty."

During the typical Ash Wednesday liturgy, when the ashes are imposed, it is typical for the pastor to say to the recipient: "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

In light of all this, perhaps we should rephrase it as: "Remember that you are from the earth and to the earth you shall return."