|The Imposition of Ashes on Ash Wednesday|
O KIND Creator, bow thine ear
To mark the cry, to know the tear
Before thy throne of mercy spent
In this thy holy fast of Lent.
Our hearts are open, Lord to thee:
Thou knowest our infirmitity;
Pour out on all who seek thy face
Abundance of thy pardoning grace.
These are the first two verses of a Latin Lenten hymn attributed to St Gregory the Great, which I sang at the first office this morning. It is 66 in the English Hymnal.
It is an evocative hymn both in its words and its chant. I think it says what needs to be said about what Lent is essentially about. Despite its reputation Lent is not about being morbid about our sin, nor a season of negativity. Lent does involve self-denial but for very positive reasons, in order to make space for our Lord. It is like what we do in our gardens at this time of year - we clear things away, ready for new growth. We might also prune shrubs and trees ready for the new growth of spring. This is not unlike the soul. Yes we need to grow by grace, but we also need to clear some stuff away. This we do through confession and penance. And if we do this we can look forward to Lent being truly a season of growth.
Our sins are many, this we know;
Spare us, good Lord, thy mercy show;
And for the honour of thy name
Our fainting souls to life reclaim.
Lent is about getting down to the very basics of reality: we are in great need of God. So we begin a holy season of fasting by coming before God in simplicity of heart, crying to Him, knowing our need of His mercy. It is this open heart that is crucial. If our hearts are truly open to Him we are then disposed to receive the grace we need to draw closer to Him, or as the hymn puts it, "purely dwell in thee".
Give us the self-control that springsEvery blessing for your keeping of Lent: for your fasting, repentance, study of God's word, and almsgiving.
From discipline of outward things,
That fasting inward secretly
The soul may purely dwell in thee.