Lenten bulletin art commissioned by Westminster Presbyterian Church (Snellville, GA); Mobile, AL, February 2016. 

Prayerful Preparation

{Soft pastel.}

WPC‘s worship series this Lent will be guided by the theme “Prayerful Preparation: Repent, Reflect, and Renew.” Those of you familiar with the Church calendar will know that a lot of stuff happens between Ash Wednesday and Easter. So, how to capture the “from dust to dust” of Ash Wednesday, the hungry waiting of Lent, the “hosanna” of Palm Sunday, the betrayal and heartbreak of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, the long, exhausting silence of Holy Saturday, and that whole Easter thing into one image?

When my friend Katy (who also happens to be the Associate Pastor at WPC) was telling me about this theme, the first thing I thought of was that three-arrows-make-a-triangle symbol for recycling. (You know. Reduce, reuse, recycle? You should do that, by the way.) Obviously this recycling image isn’t exactly applicable as it stands, but so began the thinking about repenting, reflecting, and renewing as a continuous process, one act leading to the next.

I started with chalk pastel thinking it’d be a good way to represent Ash Wednesday. For many worshipers, that day is marked, quite literally, by the imposition of ashes. At least in my religious tradition, worshipers are reminded that we came from dust and that we will return to dust, and we often have the option to receive a cross of ashes on our foreheads or hands. Speaking as one who has both received and given these ashes…it can be a messy process. Then again, so can acknowledging acknowledging our sin as we enter a season of fasting (literally or otherwise). Smudges of ash — and smudges of pastels — get everywhere. Granted, I’m like an amateur of amateurs when it comes to pastels, but I’m drawn to how impossible perfection is when I use this medium.

The thorny part of the cycle is maybe less explicitly a representation of reflection in itself, but more focused on what happens between our sin and Jesus’s resurrection. Reflection is not always easy or enjoyable. Needless to say, neither was Christ’s crown made of thorns. When we reflect on our lives or our faith or anything else, we can give thanks for good things of course. But reflection also, hopefully, leads to an honest acknowledgment of our shortcomings. Our “growing edges,” as we say so often in ministryland. There are things each of us does well. But what do we wish was different? And what are we willing to do to change it? Maybe our reflection involves giving thanks for what we have. Or maybe our reflection involves only a string of “why”s peppered with some choice language and a few “I don’t know”s. There’s no guarantee of comfort, but God hears both, and all of the wonderings in between.

One of my very favorite phrases from writer Anne Lamott is that “we are Easter people living in a Good Friday world.” Back to that whole hope thing I can’t seem to stop talking about, right? So, here we are, after repenting and reflecting. Finally the sun rises on an empty tomb and we find renewal. Jesus’s crucifixion might’ve been a one time thing, but we are renewed again and again and again. There was this one tree in the middle of the quad at my seminary that looked half dead. All the time. In the summer half of it would have leaves and half of the branches would still be bare. When it bloomed in the spring, it was like Holy Week all in one plant. There were Good Friday branches, sure, but in the very same tree there were Easter blooms. (Technically I think they were dogwood blooms. But I hope you know what I mean.) I don’t want us to get too ahead of ourselves and only talk about Easter before Lent even starts. But even as we spend time in repentance and reflection, renewal is waiting.