With Ash Wednesday we enter the season known to many Christians as Lent. Many don the ashes obtained from the palms of the previous Palm Sunday as a way of proclaiming their sinfulness and need of God's tender mercy. The ashes, then, in the form of a cross, attest to this time as a period of repentance and reconciliation.
This is a time of deep introspection revolving around our relationship with God. It is a time of self-sacrifice so that we may draw nearer to the Creator. And while it is a time of deep introspection, it is also a time of reaching out to others who may have lost their way in the world.
During this time we are encouraged to pray more frequently, seeking the mind and will of God. It is very easy for us to become lax in our prayer lives as the year flows by because we are not reminded very often of our relationship with the Almighty.
Lent is also a time to grow and mature in our faith. So many of us have immature notions of who God is and the role He plays in our lives. How do we come to know God outside of prayer? We study and prayerfully consider Sacred Scripture. Here we come face to face with the Word of God and it is here in which we come to understand our true destiny and purpose in life. We discover more clearly our sinfulness and find that with our most compassionate God that His mercy knows no bounds.
Lent is also, perhaps strangely, a time of joy. This joy is rooted in our knowledge that what follows the season of Lent is the greatest celebration of the year: Easter. Jesus raised from the dead! How can we not have great joy burning in our hearts with the knowledge that the Savior of the World took on my sins, died for me, and then rose from that death all out of sheer love for me?
Lent is also a time for us to deal with our imperfections. In a Navajo rug there is always one clear imperfection intentionally included into the pattern. The purpose of this is, according to the Navajo philosophy, is to provide a place for the Spirit to move in and out of the rug. The Eastern mind (a mind that Jesus would very easily understand) understands perfection in this way.
The Western mind sees perfection as something without any flaws whatsoever. But perfection is no the elimination of imperfection. Rather, perfection is the ability to recognize, forgive, and include imperfection. Think of this. Our Creator who is perfect sees us perfectly with all our imperfections and, at the same time, accepts and embraces our imperfections. Jesus spoke of perfection and imperfection. "Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Mt 5: 48)
When we first hear this statement of Jesus, it seems that He is telling us to achieve an impossible goal. How can we possibly become perfect as God is perfect? We are imperfect human beings and will never be perfect in this existence. Then, what could Christ mean?
In light of the Eastern meaning of imperfection that Jesus would have been well acquainted with, it means that we need to be accepting of one another, imperfections and all. It does not mean that we have to become without flaws. At the same time, it does mean that we do need to strive as best we can, though.
During this time of Lent then, one of the goals that I have is to begin to accept others with more understanding and compassion. I need to come to the realization that God does not expect me to be perfect nor does He expect anyone else to achieve that same level. In accepting others the way they are, we being to draw more closely to the way that God sees us and, in that vision, we become closer to the Father.