Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Lent in Iraq

The young Soldier made his way down the aisle. Reaching the front of the sanctuary he stopped, clasped his hands, and bowed his head for the imposition of the ashes. “Remember you are dust” I said as I made the mark of the cross on his forehead “and to dust you shall return.” He whispered “Amen”, turned, and made his way back to his seat, his weapon swaying in time with his step as the next penitent stepped forward.

There’s something particularly poignant about Ash Wednesday in a combat zone. “Remember your mortality, remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return” we say. They remember. Every day as they leave for convoys and combat patrols. Each night as they fly. Every day as the mortars rain down and the rockets scream overhead, they remember. Ashes are a powerful symbol to men and women who have seen the remains of friends charred beyond recognition in IED attacks, or burned in aircraft that have been lost. These ashes are not some esoteric reminder of mortality; they are the present reality of too many friends and comrades.

“What you sow does not come to life unless it dies” Paul reminds us. So, during these forty days of Lent we seek to kill those things that do not belong in our lives. It’s harder here, trying to figure out what to give up for Lent. General Order #1 denies us alcohol, always a favorite abstention when this season rolls around. As a matter of fact there is not much to give up when you are already living a life of deprivation compared to life back home. But it is blessing as well as curse. It forces us to focus on the real things we need to give up. What is it that separates us from a closer walk with God? What grows in my life that needs to be plucked up, rooted out, and purged? No easy denial of some worldly pleasure here; those were taken away a long time ago. Instead, what is this season really calling me to give up?

Luckily, we live with the promise. That promise is that this is a season, and only a season. This season will pass and we will arrive at the glory of Easter and the Resurrection. We remember that we are dust, and to dust we shall return. But we also remember that the promise is that this perishable body will put on imperishability and this mortal body will put on immortality; that this body that is clothed in dishonor will be raised in glory.

That is our hope this Lent, as we serve thousands of miles from home.


At 3:00 PM, Blogger Tim Moon said...

Hey, Jimbo! I've been following your adventures since I wrote you last month or so. God bless. I tell the folks in my church that Lent is not necessarily a time when you have to give up if you can take up what you need to. Sometimes taking up requires giving up, but when you have given up a lot (as you and yours have) taking up is all you can do.

I can imagine that Lent in Iraq must be difficult, but Easter is always at the end of the Lent. I pray that all of you over there may know that with certainty. And remeber -- we who are still stateside have "lent" to Iraq all of you whom we love and care for. Easter will keep us united in spirit.


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