Ash Wednesday

Devil’s Slide, San Mateo County, California by Minor White — gelatin silver print, 6 5/8 × 8 1/2 inches, 1948.

February 22, 2023 Lectionary Texts — Year A
Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 or Isaiah 58:1-12 • Psalm 51:1-17 • 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10 • Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

View Lectionary

Image description: A high contrast black and white photograph depicting a layer of thick clouds hanging over a sea of gentle waves. The sun, barely peaking through, brightly illuminates a thin band of clouds stretching across the upper portion of the image. Sunlight dances in bright patches on the ocean surface. The horizon line is shrouded in darkness and tilts slightly to the left.

Eternal One: Blow the trumpet in Zion; signal the alarm from My holy mountain! It is almost here. Let all who live in the land tremble because the day of the Eternal One is coming. Judgment will come on a black and fearful day; a thick cloud of darkness will loom over everything. — Joel 2:1-2a

No, what I want in a fast is this: to liberate those tied down and held back by injustice, to lighten the load of those heavily burdened, to free the oppressed and shatter every type of oppression. Then, oh then, your light will break out like the warm, golden rays of a rising sun; in an instant, you will be healed. Your rightness will precede and protect you; the glory of the Eternal will follow and defend you. If you make sure that the hungry and oppressed have all that they need, then your light will shine in the darkness, and even your bleakest moments will be bright as a clear day. — Isaiah 58:6,8,10

But still, You long to enthrone truth throughout my being; in unseen places deep within me, You show me wisdom. Cleanse me of my wickedness with hyssop, and I will be clean. If You wash me, I will be whiter than snow. — Psalm 51:6-7

Whether respected or loathed, praised or criticized as frauds, yet true, as unknown to this world, and yet well known to God, we serve Him. We are treated as dying and yet we live, as punished and yet we are not executed. Though we are sorrowful, we continually rejoice. As the poorest of the poor, we bring richness to all, and though we have nothing, we possess all things. — 2 Corinthians 6:8-10

Some people store up treasures in their homes here on earth. This is a shortsighted practice — don’t undertake it. Moths and rust will eat up any treasure you may store here. Thieves may break into your homes and steal your precious trinkets. Instead, put up your treasures in heaven where moths do not attack, where rust does not corrode, and where thieves are barred at the door. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. — Matthew 6:19-21

For Lent this year, I am choosing to feature black and white photography pieces. This is a medium close to my heart. My college photography classes opened a world of wonder and contemplation to me. The many hours spent developing film and image in the darkroom brought me to a place of conversation and communion with God previously unknown to me. Here I discovered visual metaphor. Images became more than just snapshots of people, places and objects — they became symbols of the things one cannot photograph such as emotions, spiritual experiences, prayers, longings, etc. Often as I worked with a particular image, a passage of Scripture would come to mind. When presented in black and white, an image enters a liminal space. No longer seen as it actually appeared to the human eye, such a picture can now swing the doors open to personal meaning making and interpretation.

As you contemplate the images and Lenten Scriptures, allow yourself to generously apply metaphor — “this is like that”. In the instance of the image I’ve selected for Ash Wednesday, we may ascribe the contrast found between the rich black tones and glowing white areas of the landscape to be a visual representation of Paul’s list of dichotomies in 2 Corinthians. Just as White’s landscape presents and holds both darkness and light, so does the believer’s experience as Paul explains.

What other metaphors from the texts can you find a home for in this image? How does this image serve to usher us into the liminal space of the Lenten season?

Practicing Visio Divina:

  1. View the artwork
    What do you see?

    Note shapes – color – style – movement
    What stands out for you?
    What are you curious about?
    What questions do you have?
    Hold back any feelings – judgments – opinions
  2. Read the accompanying scripture and look over the artwork again
    What connections do you make?

    Between the image and text?
    What is coming to mind from your own experience?
    What feelings are rising in you?
    Are you uncomfortable with something?
    There are no right or wrong answers
  3. Read the scripture again and explore the artwork a third time
    What do you hear?

    What is God saying to you?
    What do you wish to speak to God?
    What blessing or prayer is rising in you?

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