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Letter from Amy: Feb 14, 2024 (Ash Wednesday)

Bill Wylie, photograph of Poudre Canyon, Colorado, after the 2020 Cameron Peak wildfire

Dear friends,

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. The 7am service was quiet and moving, and we'll offer it again at 7pm at Greenbrier Baptist — I hope to see you there. This week, I'll keep my letter simple: a poem, a prayer, and an invitation to retreat.

A Poem

Ash Wednesday Sonnet

by Malcolm Guite

Receive this cross of ash upon your brow,

Brought from the burning of Palm Sunday’s cross.

The forests of the world are burning now

And you make late repentance for the loss.

But all the trees of God would clap their hands

The very stones themselves would shout and sing

If you could covenant to love these lands

And recognise in Christ their Lord and king.

He sees the slow destruction of those trees,

He weeps to see the ancient places burn,

And still you make what purchases you please,

And still to dust and ashes you return.

But Hope could rise from ashes even now

Beginning with this sign upon your brow.

I appreciate the way this poem laments one tragic consequences of human sin: our broken relationship with creation. Our Ash Wednesday litany invites us to repentance: "For our wastefulness and misuse of your creation, and our lack of concern for those who come after us; Lord, have mercy upon us, for we have sinned against you."

A Prayer

I have the privilege of hosting the Examen small group led by Nicole Gagnon (I just provide the meal and table; Nicole does all the work!). Nicole wrote a Lenten Preparation Prayer for our group last week that I found simple, meaningful, and God-centered — i.e., the best sort of Lenten practice. She has graciously given me permission to share it, and I commend this prayer to your use.

Lenten Preparation Prayer

(Sources of inspiration: last week’s Letter from Amy and this blog post)

Settle your body into your chair, either closing your eyes or softening your gaze toward the floor. Place your hands into a comfortable, yet open posture. Take a few deep breaths and quiet your mind, then look at God, who is looking back at you with love.

Spend some time thanking God for the gifts He has given you over the last month, perhaps in special moments that happened, new discoveries made, words of encouragement received, and in the small glimpses of beauty.

Invite God to help you look at the Lenten season ahead and ask for his light to be a source of comfort for you.

Reflect on the following questions with God, paying attention to any strong emotions that might arise within you:

— When you look at me and my life, what brings you joy?

— What does my soul need from you during Lent?

— What graces would you like me to be more open to in this season? Help me to see the thoughts, words, and deeds that make it harder for me to accept those graces from you.

Ask for God’s guidance in how to prepare yourself for Lent:

— Is there a specific attitude or action you would like for me to lay down or take up in order to create more space for you?

— What would you like me to pay attention to in this season?

— How would you like for me to act towards myself in this season?

— How would you like for me to act towards others in this season?

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

An Invitation to Retreat

Finally, I'd like to invite you to this Saturday's Lent Mini-Retreat, led by the Rev. Dr. Erin Clifford-Riese. Erin did her doctoral research studying the resilient faith practices of a community of Christians living in poverty in a Nairobi slum, and has turned her findings into a retreat (don't worry! Despite this beginning as a doctoral research project, it will not be heady and academic, but contemplative, with plenty of time for quiet and reflection and discussion.)

It's so rare that we have opportunities to sit at the feet of our global brothers and sisters and learn from them; the global church has a beautiful way of exposing our own syncretisms and unchallenged cultural assumptions. I'm delighted that we can offer this retreat to our community as we enter Lent together, and I am praying for how God will use the time. You are welcome to invite others who might benefit!

Saturday, Feb 17, 9am-12pm at the Radkas' house in Arlington Ridge (near Pentagon City). You can RSVP here.

I invite us all to a holy Lent.



p.s. Shrove Tuesday was a blast! Thanks so much to everyone who provided food, cooked, cleaned, led us in exuberant song, and officiated the (highly competitive) pancake races. I hereby declare Josie and Russell the counselors of Camp Incarnation!


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