Emptying and restoring

Photo by Wesley Balten

Welcome to my ‘Layman’s Lectionary’ series where I stumble my way through the liturgical year and share my layman’s opinions, doubts, fears, and hopes about modern culture and daily life as it corresponds to scripture.

Ash Wednesday
Click here for Revised Common Lectionary readings.


I haven’t attended an Ash Wednesday service in 25 years. This morning, as I sat in the pew next to my wife, I realized I was participating in a seasonal religious ceremony that dates back to the beginning of time.

The service was stripped down to the bare essentials. The accents of green from ordinary time were swapped out for the purple of the Lenten season. There was no choir and no grand entrance procession like usual. The hallowed word allelujah has been stricken from all hymnals until Easter.

The tone of the sermon was solemn. The confession was more pronounced. Much like advent, this is a cycle of somberness. One where we bear witness to our frailties and fragilities as mortals. One where we take notice of the fact that these bodies of ours will return to dust.

During this Lenten season, we take a stark look at the shadow side of our humanity. Naming our transgressions is never easy, especially in modern-day America where we’re all so enabled by our confirmation biases and cheered on by the digital applause of whatever algorithm we’ve found ourselves in.

It’s a season of self-emptying kenosis. One where we give up the gluttonies that we use to blanket and silence our inner moanings and groanings wrought from our imagined (albeit indelible) separation from our divine source.

As today’s Psalm says, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.”

The psalm continues, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.”

Emptying and restoring.
Emptying and restoring.

This is the divine pattern. And it’s what I’ll be meditating on this blessed Lenten season.

I mean, I should also give up chocolate too, but…

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