Join in an Intimate Lenten Journey that leads us home

This entry is part 1 of 8 in the series Lenten Journeys

U.S. Navy men and women participate in an Ash Wednesday service aboard the USS Wasp in the Atlantic Ocean. Electronics Technician 3rd Class Leila Tardieu receives the sacramental ashes from a chaplain. (U.S. Navy photo by Brian May released for public use.)

CLICK THE COVER to learn more about this book and to read sample chapters.MILLIONS OF MEN and WOMEN around the world begin the journey of Lent this week with Ash Wednesday. When Eastern Orthodox Christians begin their Great Lent, starting a few weeks later this year, a total of more than 2 billion souls will share this journey toward new life.
THIS YEAR, ReadTheSpirit has two, inspiring offerings for Lent:


Thousands of readers around the world have enjoyed ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm’s day-by-day book of Lenten stories, called Our Lent: Things We Carry. Small groups and even entire congregations have enjoyed “group reads” of the book, discussing it week by week. Now, you can enjoy this updated second edition. CLICK on the book cover, at right, to learn more about the stories in this book. On that book page, links in the left margin invite you to read the book’s Preface, Table of Contents, and Sample Chapter. Purchasing a copy of OurLent helps to support ReadTheSpirit’s ongoing work.


One of our most popular columnists and authors is the Rev. Dr. Benjamin Pratt, a retired pastoral counselor who published books on wrestling with temptations (Ian Fleming’s Seven Deadlier Sins and 007’s Moral Compass) as well as helping others (Guide for Caregivers). His online columns are free for you to share with others (if you credit Dr. Pratt and as the source). In addition, many of his columns are shared with the website of the Day1 radio network.
For Lent 2013, we are proud to publish Dr. Pratt’s once-a-week series …

Intimate Lenten Journey: Introduction …

By the Rev. Dr. Benjamin Pratt

One of the earliest portraits of Jesus Christ still in existence. A Roman-era mosaic now in the British Museum. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.HOLIDAYS ARE HISTORY. That’s the way most of us approach the ancient traditions and family customs that we love to repeat each year. But, the year-long cycle of Christian holidays are much more than that. These seasons are timeless, yet they also are very clear invitations to affirm our personal journey as God’s people.

In Advent, we start the yearly cycle by preparing to receive the Lord, coming into this world to accompany us. Jesus is born at Christmas, but it is also the season to celebrate our own birth into the faith. Epiphany is more than just a historical memory of three Magi bringing gifts to honor this babe. Epiphany is an invitation for each of us to affirm the gifts we bring to the table shared by all of God’s people. By the time we reach Lent each year, we have jumped through more than three decades of Jesus’ life and the world’s two billion Christians recall Jesus’ last journey to Jerusalem.

Lent is history, but it also is the most intimate invitation to men and women to journey in the Way of Jesus—the way of compassion, love, peace, hope, joy and forgiveness.

There is enormous loss and spectacular hope in Lent. And, each year, we all are invited to share our own losses and hopes as we journey together with each other and with Jesus toward the crescendo of Easter. That’s why these annual holidays and festivals have lasted for 2,000 years. That’s why, today, 1 in 3 people walking the Earth claims to be Christian and will in some way mark the Lenten journey. This is history, yes—but it also is an intimate invitation every year. “Intimacy is our capacity for closeness and tenderness in moments of risky self-disclosure,” says Father Richard Rohr, whom we just welcomed into the pages of this online magazine.

Each week during Lent, I will share some intimate stories—with an emphasis on that word “share.” I want you to feel free to share my stories with others. And I hope that my stories will prompt you to remember and share your own stories that are part of this journey. Perhaps you might carry these columns into your small group and invite people to discuss them. You will discover that the hallowed places I plan to take you in these six weeks are well-trod ground for many people. Perhaps they are hallowed ground you recognize.

This year, proclaim to the world that Lent and Easter are history, sure enough—but they also are personal invitations to journey together. Come along with me?

An Intimate Lenten Journey, Part 1:
Generation Calls to Generation; Deep Calls to Deep

THIS ROMAN-ERA CREMATORY URN, uncovered by archaeologists and dated to about 2,000 years ago was accompanied by a second smaller container to its right, apparently a vessel containing a gift of something precious to accompany the departed. Photo by Robert Valette, released for public use.‘TWAS A GRACIOUS OFFER we extended to the family—as so many grandparents do. We thought about it carefully, then waited for an appropriate gathering of the whole gang and announced: “We are getting old and will soon leave our home of many years. We want each of you grandchildren to choose some things to remind you of life with us.”

They stared at us for a moment, pondering this strange invitation. We could see them thinking through the meaning of what they had just heard. But, after questions, hugs, consoling grins and sighs—they took us at our word.

Finally, the respectful question came back to us: “What should we pick?” So, the walk began—all around our old house. What fun for my wife and me! I am known as “PopPop,” the patriarch over this gang of grandchildren. And soon PopPop was happily explaining the connections and personal history that oozes from every picture, pot, post and table—the collage of memories that drapes our home.

As the tales flowed, their pencils moved, making lists that included antique pictures where no one smiles back, a page from a 1611 Bible, Civil War bullet castings, pie-top and drop-leaf tables, rope beds—and even modern art. Clearly, they were excited by all of these offerings. We assured them that no request was out of bounds.

That is when a 9-year-old boy surprised us. He said: “I want PopPop’s ashes. That’s my first choice. That way, I can always have him close and talk with him.”

Nervous chuckles erupted from the others—uncertain what to say—and then gentle teasing and flat-out joking about how and where my ashes should, one day, be stored.

Soon, I could see that 9-year-old boy needed a hug to reassure him that his sincere question wasn’t being dismissed. I whispered in his ear: “I like your choice.”

I heard his question as he meant it: I don’t want to be without him; he doesn’t want to be without me. As in families around the world, we had cared for each other, laughed with each other, shared stories, comforted each other when sick. We had giggled, danced, read, laughed, played, wrestled, snuggled, talked about God and girls. He knows my love. I know his love.

And so this request: “I want PopPop’s ashes.”

And in that request was the truth so unvarnished and hard-edged: I shall leave him before he leaves me. It is in the nature of families. It is in the nature of relationships when the circle of friends realizes that one—perhaps even the leader of the whole big gang—is destined to leave first.

Just a 9-year-old boy, but the question was crystal clear.

Across the generations, his deep was calling to my deep.


AS A DEER longs for flowing streams,
so my soul longs for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.


When shall I come and behold
the face of God?

My soul is cast down within me …
Deep calls to deep
at the thunder of your cataracts;
all your waves and your billows
have gone over me.


By day the Lord commands his steadfast love,
and at night his song is with me,
a prayer to the God of my life.

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God.

Originally published at, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

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