Lenten Hymns, Disciplines, and Practices
During our Christmas Eve service, I was struck by a line in a hymn and it stuck with me for weeks, which meant that, as I was preparing for Lent, I ducked down the rabbit hole of reading hymn texts, something I don’t remember ever doing. As a parish priest, I often had our church musicians pick all of the music, unless I wanted specifically to sing something that I planned to mention in a sermon. So, as I was skimming the Lenten hymns, I found one that I’ve never sung or even remember reading: Hymn 145. The words are amazing. This hymn was written by Percy Dearmer (1867-1936), an English liturgist and priest, who advocated for leadership roles for women in the Church (not ordination, mind you), wrote volumes on vestments, and compiled hymnals. This hymn stuck with me because, as a former Roman Catholic, I have often struggled with the place and meaning of Lent. Every Ash Wednesday, I find myself reflecting on the admonition not to be like those in sackcloth and ashes, and yet we put an ashen cross on our forehead before heading out into the world. I’m sure that theologians and scholars have quick answers to this conundrum, but each year I struggle with the outward ways we engage with Lent and repentance and wonder about them. I’ve advocated taking something on instead of giving something up; I’ve explained how giving something up gets in the way of our relationship with God; and I’ve benefited from all sorts of Lenten disciplines, practices, and educational programs. And yet, as Lent approaches each year, I think about the ways it sets us apart publicly (like eating fish on Fridays at school growing up) and wonder. This year, I’m sitting in that same familiar place but equipped with Hymn 145.
Now quit your care and anxious fear and worry; for schemes are vain and fretting brings no gain. Lent calls to prayer, to trust and dedication; God brings new beauty nigh; reply, reply, reply with love to love most high; reply, reply, reply to love most high.
To bow the head in sackcloth and in ashes, or rend the soul, such grief is not Lent’s goal; but to be led to where God’s glory flashes, his beauty to come near. Make clear, make clear, make clear where truth and light appear; make clear, make clear, make clear where truth and light appear.
–Hymn 145, verses 1-2
There are three more verses, each equally lovely, but as I sort out my Lenten discipline, I find myself struck by this image of prayer, trust, and dedication to replying with love to love most high. Any of you who have heard me speak about UTO have heard me share a quote from Fr. Vincent Donovan reminding us that saying thank you is our way of acknowledging love given and received – “thank you” simply means, “my love to your love.” Your love was the kind gesture that I’m not meant to match or repay; it was a gift freely given out of the love and care in your heart, and thank you is a sign that my heart is full with love for you and the love received from you. If we put the hymn and Fr. Donovan’s teaching together, we see that Lent is a time of prayer, trust, and dedication to give thanks to God. The hymn goes on to say that our work is to care for those in need, and when we combine our gifts, we help the light of Christ break into the world, the friends we make will bring God’s glory, and together we will build paradise. This is a radically different way to look at Lent than how I have for much of my life because it asks us to look for and share our blessings and to build up the Kingdom of God together. It’s not about sadness or repentance for repentance sake, but rather it is a chance to participate in reconciling the world to God’s dream for us.
This Lent, I’m going to reflect on Hymn 145 and consider the ways in which I can help bring light into my community, my home, and my work. I’m also going to look for ways to give thanks for all of the good things that God is doing that I miss because I’m busy or because I’ve come to expect my life to be ordered a certain way. I want to invite you to join me. Several of you have asked that we recreate a tool that you remember from a long time ago that encourages you to give to UTO based on what you have versus what the rest of the world has of that day’s item. It’s like a reverse Advent Calendar – for Lent and instead of getting a chocolate, you give a certain amount each day. I was able to find a Daughters of the King article from 1988 referencing a calendar created by the Presiding Bishop’s Fund for World Relief, and I created one for UTO. (You might have seen them already, as we launched them on Facebook in January for those that wanted to use the calendar for your parish. For those that haven’t seen them, there’s still time! Just print out the Lenten Calendar and work your way through.) To begin, decide how much you are willing/able to give for each item. You could do a penny, nickel, dime, quarter, or even a dollar. Then, each day, you’ll be invited to learn a little about a UTO grant site and consider how many of something you have in your house that the grant site utilizes to carry out its work each day. Once you’ve counted the items, you go and place that many coins in your Blue Box. It’s a great way to give thanks for all of the ways that God is blessing you and to learn more about UTO grant sites.
However you choose to mark the days of Lent, I hope that it will involve noticing all of the good things that God is doing in your life and giving thanks. For my part, I am so thankful for all of you and for all of the ways God is blessing you today.