I know. It ain’t Lent yet! But with Ash Wednesday loitering just around the corner and so many words written for it, I need to get in early.
Though I didn’t grow up in a tradition that marked Ash Wednesday, I like what it’s about. At the very beginning of Lent it leads us into the desert where Jesus fasted, prayed and battled with temptation just prior to the start of his ministry. Obviously what happened there for Jesus was key to his resolve and determination in the rest of the story.
Historically, deserts have been important places for spiritual growth. With distractions and props cleared away, desert journeys have a way of stripping human life down to its bare essentials, reminding us of our mortality, confronting us with our fears and failings, and highlighting our dependence on resources far beyond our own capacity.
It’s this sense of Ash Wednesday and its call to the desert that William Loader captures with this prayer.
A Prayer for Ash Wednesday
The darkness asks us questions.
You are out there and we do not see.
You invite us into the night,
the stillness, the loneliness, the desert place.
We cannot see our shadow;
the cold damp of unknowing rises up from beneath our feet.
We tread cautiously, tentatively.
We are afraid,
afraid of ghosts
haunting us with spectres of guilt and shame.
We would like to run back,
reach the river bank,
swim the Jordan,
sit in the sun by the sea,
mending our nets.
But you have brought us here
– with no bread.
When we look we can see only ourselves,
When we read,
it is invisible words which cannot be grasped,
thoughts we cannot clutch,
hope we cannot capture.
Yet the wild honey remains a taste in our mouth,
a memory for a new day.
Why have you brought us here?
What miracle will you perform for us?
The darkness sighs around us,
dense with your unseen presence,
close to our breathing,
close to our breathing.
O darkness, enlighten us,
embrace us with your invisible love.
Let us see your glory in the ashes.
Take us by the hand that we may trust the darkness.
Minister to us by your Spirit that we may not be afraid.
Jesus, keep the beasts away.
William R. G. Loader, Emeritus Professor of New Testament, Murdoch University, (1999).