faith, Joy, seasons

Ash Wednesday thoughts

February 14, 2013
A joyful Lent // Fiona Lynne

I had fifteen minutes to spare, so I bought a flaky almond pastry-pretzel from the bakery and then walked 100m up the small street so that I could stand in the sunshine. The pavements were all white from the salt the city has been throwing down each night to stop us from sliding to and from work. I had to take off my gloves to eat the pretzel and my fingers were stiff with cold but I could feel the warmth of the sunshine heating me through my thick coat and it felt good.


I was early for mass because someone had told me it was always busy, but then there were only two others in this big church and I wasn’t sure what to do. All the chairs were turned facing backward and I didn’t know whether to turn one round, or kneel, or sit facing the organ at the back. So I hovered at the book stand instead and pretended to be absorbed in a Lenten reader.

Until Rasmus was beside me and others had started filing in and we just copied them and turned the chairs around. And I tried to follow the service on the laminated card until I realised that he wasn’t following that one this morning, and then I realised that I knew nearly every word anyway.

Lift up your hearts, he called.
And without me even thinking I heard myself, We lift them to the Lord.

Some memories we hold deeply ingrained in our bodies.

And we clasped hands with stranger neighbours, and Peace be with you, peace be with you.

We joined the file of people moving at a surprisingly quick pace up the aisle to the front, and then I found myself in front of a teenage girl, looking so proud and awkward to have been chosen for this role, and she smudged the ashes onto my forehead – Turn from sin and believe – and then she giggled and I smiled.


It’s a distinctly awkward feeling walking through a mostly-unpractising city with a dark smudge across your forehead. I was stared at, whispered about. Rasmus laughed. He’d rubbed his right off. We bought baguettes and sat in the office kitchen with espressos, and two of his colleagues, passing through, asked what had happened to me? No, I’m not hurt, not bruised. Just marked.


We walked the twenty minutes into town this morning, the sky already pink and the whole walk bathed in rosy light. And it made me happy, realising that a month ago we walked this path in darkness, missing the light, longing for spring. And now it’s really on it’s way. The snow may be falling heavily this evening again but last time it melted I saw new buds bursting through the hard ground and I knew.

Winter does not last forever.


As the priest ended the service with the benediction, he smiled over us and said, May you have a joyful lent. And it sounded weird at first. Lent joyful? Surely this is the time of ashes and sackcloth, of mourning, of fasting and repenting? Joy?

And then it suddenly felt right. I’m seeking joy this year. I’m wanting more of it in my life, more of it in the lives of others. And I remember this verse I discovered recently, when Paul declares that he is “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing”. Somehow joy can exist alongside sorrow. And so why not also seek joy these forty days.

Wishing you a joyful lent, my friends.



Want to read more? Here’s last year’s post on Ash Wednesday and preparing for Lent.

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  • Sarah Holt

    Love this. Have a friend that’s talked a lot about joy & sorrow and how we want to separate them– but they’re actually paired. Like Jesus enduring the cross for the Joy set before him. Hm. Thanks Fi!

    • fionalynne

      So we need to chat more about this together ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Oh. Gosh. BEAUTIFUL. You’ve got me really wishing I had a community in which to celebrate the Liturgical Year. And I love the observation, “Winter does not last forever.” Lent is beautifully timed, isn’t it?

    • fionalynne

      It’s much harder alone. Our church here is not liturgical and so most of our Christian friends here aren’t inclined that way. But sometimes if you start doing something, and invite others in, you’ll find you’ve gathered a tribe of people who love it. At least, that’s the hope here…!

  • Of course Joy can be mixed with sorrow, I guess it’s part of the Mystery. And winter does not last forever no ๐Ÿ™‚
    Reading yesterday about the pre-Christian festival of Lupercalia (the origin of Valentine’s day), which was aimed at expiation and renewal of life before Spring, I was thinking how this might be connected to the later christianized traditions of Carnival and Lent.
    Fiona, I just finished reading Velvet Elvis (which you recommended at some point) and I loved it. It summarized perfectly how I feel about God, what it means in our lives today. Thanks ! I will be passing it along . My husband also loved the book, even when he does not identify himself as a religious person.

    • fionalynne

      I think it’s beautiful how the Christian traditions became intertwined with the pagan traditions. There’s beauty and meaning in both and I think the Christian traditions are richer in parts of the world for having been inspired by the calendar celebrations that came before. I think we sometimes make the mistake of thinking that God is somehow “above” culture, but he’s deep deep in it instead!
      (So glad you like the book!)

  • Margaret

    Your comments on Winter and Spring reminded me of Narnia. And lovely Mr Tumnus

    โ€œMeanwhile,’ said Mr Tumnus, ‘it is winter in Narnia, and has been for ever so long, and we shall both catch cold if we stand here talking in the snow. Daughter of Eve from the far land of Spare Oom where eternal summer reigns around the bright city of War Drobe, how would it be if you came and had tea with me?โ€
    โ€• C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

    • Yes I always think of Narnia with phrases like this, and I did too. Specially when we are in the darkest part of a (seemingly) mever ending winter.
      Mr. Tumnus is my favorite.

    • fionalynne

      Tea is the best answer to a long cold winter… ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • I’m not religious myself, but it always makes my heart happy when I see someone walking around with so clear a symbol of their faith. The courage to believe and be open about that belief is inspiring.

  • I’d like to go next year. BTW, you can count me as a liturgically-inclined friend.

    • fionalynne

      Whoop! And the tribe gathering begins… ๐Ÿ™‚