Lenten Spiritual Formation

Anita at Feeling the Light is emailing out contemplative prompts throughout this year’s season of Lent.  If you are interested in delving into your own spiritual formation, feel free to take these prompts and answer them for yourselves!

“Hands are amazing. There are few animals in the world who use their hands similar to how humans do. Meditate on these pictures or find other pictures of hands that speak to you in some way. Take pictures of your own hands, or of a loved one’s hands. Notice the contours, lines, shades and shapes. What is the texture of these hands? What do these hands say?”

The prompt feels like it’s leaning towards something empowering or beautiful, but yesterday was Ash Wednesday.  As a former Baptist, I’m fairly ignorant about the rhythms of the church calendar, but I’m pretty sure Ash Wednesday is about death.  And as I look at my hands, I think of death.  Whether it’s the peeling nail polish or the extra lines or the faded scars, my hands are growing older.

So is the rest of me.  I have gray hairs now, and it’s a battle to convince myself that I am proud of them rather than ashamed.  I started working out a couple months ago because I was alarmed at how easy it was for my skin to start sagging, and I guess I’m trying to postpone the inevitable.  My feet hurt after a day of walking.  I get headaches when I don’t drink enough water.  Jubilant play or dancing only lasts a couple minutes before I’m wheezing for air.

I am frail.  My body is beautiful, yes.  My body is useful and productive and sometimes efficient.  But it’s falling apart, slowly but surely.  “From dust you came, and to dust you will return.”  Life is meant to be eternal, but it’s not.  I believe in the Christian story because my soul feels its truth – I am made for something more than what I have.  This world, and this body, is not what it should be.  Beauty is shaded with corruption.  My hands, which are strong and growing weaker, are capable of both helping someone and harming them.  Everything has a dark side.  

I am grateful for the Lenten season because I need the Church to acknowledge the dark side of life.  I need to stare death in the face.  I need to hear messages of hope that are based in honesty rather than well-intentioned lies.  I love that the Church has intentionally set aside forty days to say, “The world is not what it should be, and we must mourn this.”

Thinking about hands, I picked up on a line from The Avett Brothers’ song: “Once and Future Carpenter” about callused hands that could swing a metal mallet sure and straight.  And then the chorus came around, and I felt like it was perfect for this topic:

Forever I will move like the world that turns beneath me
And when I lose my direction I’ll look up to the sky
And when the black dress drags upon the ground
I’ll be ready to surrender, and remember
We’re all in this together
If I live the life I’m given, I won’t be scared to die

This is life:  moving, losing direction, black dresses dragging.

This is Lent: in the midst of our pain and growing old and getting weak, we can surrender and remember:  we’re all in this together.  And though death is inevitable, “if I live the life I’m given, I won’t be scared to die.”

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