In the Footsteps of the Lord – A Reflection for Ash Wednesday

Blow the trumpet in Zion;
sound the alarm on my holy mountain!
Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble,
for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near—
2 a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and thick darkness!
Like blackness spread upon the mountains
a great and powerful army comes;
their like has never been from of old,
nor will be again after them
in ages to come.
12 Yet even now, says the Lord,
return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
13   rend your hearts and not your clothing.
Return to the Lord, your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,
and relents from punishing.
14 Who knows whether he will not turn and relent,
and leave a blessing behind him,
a grain-offering and a drink-offering
for the Lord, your God?
15 Blow the trumpet in Zion;
sanctify a fast;
call a solemn assembly;
16   gather the people.
Sanctify the congregation;
assemble the aged;
gather the children,
even infants at the breast.
Let the bridegroom leave his room,
and the bride her canopy.
17 Between the vestibule and the altar
let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep.
Let them say, ‘Spare your people, O Lord,
and do not make your heritage a mockery,
a byword among the nations.
Why should it be said among the peoples,
“Where is their God?” ’

~ Joel 2:1 –2, 12–17

A former Trappist monk remembers Ash Wednesdays at the Abbey of Our Lady of the Holy Trinity monastery in Huntsville. He remembers how the monks would walk barefoot through the stone church, keeping time to Gregorian chants, marching eventually into the old church where they received a daub of ashes on their foreheads – a visual reminder of their need for repentance. He said, “It was cold at this time of year. You would try to step in the spots where someone had stepped before, to feel some warmth.” (Fr. Thomas Culleton, quoted in Salt Lake City Tribune, February 8, 1997)

Cold is a good adjective to describe this day, though we have the furnace turned up and all of our recent snow has melted. It is a cold day spiritually, as we confront the darker side of our humanity… our sin… our need for repentance. It can be very cold in our souls until we do this thing, this coming face-to-face with darkness, with despair, with death. But thankfully, we do not journey through this day, and other days like it, alone. There are others who have gone before us and in their footsteps we do find some warmth, some direction.

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