Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, marking the beginning of the Lenten season of penitence and reflection. I’ve been doing some reading on “forgiveness” in preparation for a Lenten series to coincide with an adult education class being offered at my church. One of the things I re-discovered is the idea of judgment.
Judgment often gets a bad wrap as being a negative thing: “Don’t judge me!” But “judgment” is really only about “naming” something. To judge something is to name it or label it as one thing or another, be it good, bad, ugly, pretty, etc. In some circumstances it may mean naming something based on a set values, whether esthetic, moral, or ethical. Forgiveness cannot be given or received without naming/judging a perceived wrongdoing. Sometimes, a judgment is wrong or misguided, so we use the word “mis-judge.” So, we have to be careful about and even intentionally question our judgments in order to clarify them, but we really cannot avoid them.
The Lenten season is an opportunity to “name” the ways we have strayed from the Way of Jesus—a way of love (sometimes tough love), a way of hope (a hard won hope), and, most importantly, a way of compassionate justice (both the act of “naming” something, and then working to either support, encourage, or dismantle the system that is supporting that thing).
When we impose ashes on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday and say things like “ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” we are being reminded of God’s compassionate judgment toward us, naming our waywardness and calling us back to the Way of Jesus (the Way of Justice). At the same time, with those ashes we are being “named” God’s children. Though it may not be intuitive, the act of naming our mortality, naming our waywardness so that we can do something about it, and even naming our desire for justice so that we might actually work for it on behalf of all people, is actually a movement toward freedom! Without naming, we are aimless and are held captive by our ignorance and misguidedness. With naming, God’s naming, we discover direction and purpose. May your Lent be full of naming and reflecting and praying and listening, working toward the discovery of direction and purpose and East hope!