I have a personal tradition I'd like to share. Each year on Ash Wednesday I go home from our solemn evening service of ashes and before retiring for the night, I wash my face and put away my electric razor until Easter.
I do not shave for 40 days.
I do not give up chocolate, meat, salad dressing or any of the other significant penitential offerings I've heard proclaimed now that I'm paying attention to them. I just quit shaving.
I'm not a great beard-grower, but within a week people begin to notice and comment, "What's this?" stroking their own chins between thumb and forefinger.
My original response drew chuckles and grins, heads shaking in disbelief: What a goof. He gave up shaving for Lent. "So whose sacrifice is that, your wife's?"
I'll admit, the first time I did this, it was a fun thing to do. I relished the extra five minutes I gained each morning. My minor sense of rebellion at a job in a large corporation was somewhat satisfying. It was also fun to hear the painful protestations from my wife and daughter when I started to look scruffy or attempted to kiss their cheeks. It was fun, but I didn't mean for it to be funny.
And something else happened.
Each morning, groggy and unclear, I wander into the bathroom for a drink of water, look into the mirror and remember, "Oh yeah, it's Lent." Forty days is really long one day at a time when wandering in the wilderness, tempted and suffering as Jesus was, which is the point of all of this.
As Martin Luther said: "Original sin is in us, like the beard. We are shaved today and look clean, and have a smooth chin; tomorrow our beard has grown again, nor does it cease growing while we remain on earth."
I can shave my beard, but the hair returns to remind me each day. And so I go through life "shaving" and failing, then shaving again.
We go a bit public at this time of year on Ash Wednesday — those of us who receive an imposition of ashes at a morning service and then go through the day with their Christianity proclaimed on their foreheads, sensing the glances from passing strangers and feeling a little self-conscious. Now imagine leaving the mark of the cross on your head for a month and a half. Yes, imagine giving up washing your forehead for Lent!
In his final days, during torture and humiliation, Jesus experienced a lesser known indignity mentioned in Isaiah 50:6: "I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting."
Honestly, I can't wait to shave. I hate having hair on my face. It feels like cobwebs and spiders crawling on my cheeks. As the hair lengthens it begins to annoy my lips and curl into the sides of my mouth. So if I must be sacrificing something, consider it my comfort.
And I've taken a different approach. Now when people grin at my beard and ask about it, I say, "It's a daily reminder of Christ's suffering in the wilderness."
As you might imagine, that gets a very different response — one I hope results not in laughter but in thoughtful reflection or even in prayer, thoughts of the season and of the sacrifice that was made for us.
Check out this week's articles:
Return trip: (right) God gives us a chance to start over on our path to Lent.
Lenten nest: What will you add to these 40 days of waiting for new life?Online Lent.
Also: Communicating hope.
This week on our blog:
Sonia Solomonson (right) blogs about leaving a legacy.
Julie Sevig blogs about seniors confirming their faith.
Andrea Pohlmann blogs about spiritual help in hard times.
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