Chapter 7. Ash Wednesday

Taking the week off had been a good decision. Liz found soon enough that Keller stuck to her like Velcro—he followed her everywhere!  For the first few days she had to carry him up and down the stairs; he refused to go near them.  But he quickly got over that and was soon running down the stairs—and literally flying over the last three steps.  

Keller did wonders for Kevin. Kevin enjoyed the responsibility of taking care of him—and he wasn’t allergic to Keller!  The plan had been for Keller to sleep in the crate, but that plan didn’t survive the first night. He slept in Kevin’s bed, and the crate was taken to the garage to gather dust. 

Keller had become so enamored with Liz that if he couldn’t be with her for an hour, he would do the next best thing—chew on something that smelled of her.  Liz came back from picking the boys up on Wednesday to find that one shoe of her favorite pair of comfortable leather mules was chewed up beyond recognition.  

And the dog loved paper!  Whether it was playing with and eating toilet paper in the powder room or an errant piece of paper that had fallen to the floor, he was on it!  One night when Keller was sleeping with him, Liam left some pages of his math homework on the floor of his bedroom. When he started collecting the pages of his homework to put in his backpack in the morning, he realized that about half of one page of his math homework was missing.  Keller had a guilty look on his face and was sitting in the corner of his room. 

 Liam had to actually tell his teacher that his dog ate his homework.  He put what was left of the ragged piece of paper in a plastic bag to show her.  She gave him another copy of the homework page, and told him to turn it in after lunch. 

Keller earned his moniker, “Keller the Explorer,” in the first week he was with them. He loved to meet people in the neighborhood who thought he was the cutest puppy they had ever seen.

  On Tuesday, he ran out the kitchen door while Brian was unloading groceries from the car, and Brian had to run after him for half a block to catch up with him. Keller was smiling, excited by his adventure. 

On Wednesday, he escaped when the door was open while the kids were trooping in from school.  They were looking for him a few minutes later when they got a telephone call from a sweet granny in the neighborhood who said that Keller was prancing up the walkway to her house when she went out to fetch the mail.  She brought him into her house to keep him safe, and called the phone number on his tag. 

But Keller had so many endearing qualities that the consternation caused by his puppy escapades were soon forgotten.  Brian swore that the toy breed must have a herder gene. Keller was an expert people herder.  He loved to have the whole family together—preferably with him as the center of attention. 

His herding method never varied. He would go into a room where one person was located and race out.  If the thick-headed human family member didn’t get the hint to follow him, he came back and raced out again.  

When the person finally followed him, he would lead him to another room where one or two others were located, looking back over his shoulder the entire way, to make sure his charge was following him.  He continued this herding technique until he got as many family members into one room as possible, where they usually told stories about his antics. 

But in addition to getting Keller acclimated to the family, Liz also had to get ready to leave for their long week-end skiing trip to Mammoth—no small task with a family of six.  

She also had to respond to some church related emails before leaving.  She sent one email venting about one of the church leaders to a friend in the church, and received an email a few minutes later from another member of the ministry team, “Did you mean to send that email to the entire team?”  

Liz was mortified. The email she sent only showed her friend’s name—but somehow it had been sent to the entire team.  Geez Louise.  When I’m at work, I never write an email that I don’t want to see on the front page of the LA Times.  Why do I forget that rule at home? she wondered. 

Following the guidance provided by Jesus in Matthew 18, she immediately called the recipient of the email and the person she had carelessly complained about and apologized profusely.  Still feeling the weight of guilt of her offense, she prayed about it. 

During her time of meditation, she thought about the Pilgrim’s Progress board game she had purchased for her junior high Sunday School class.  As Christian journeys around the board on his various adventures and misadventures, he is carrying a backpack that weighs him down.  It is difficult to meet all of the challenges he faces while he is carrying the burdensome backpack.  The backpack gets heavier and heavier as he ploughs along.

  But when he arrives at the Cross, the backpack slips off, and he no longer carries the burden of his sin. This is what Christ does for us, thought Liz.  He takes our burdens so that we no longer have to carry them. 

 There was no school on Thursday and Friday because of teacher meetings and training throughout the Archdiocese.  They would be in Mammoth for three nights, returning on Sunday—so Liz got busy planning and packing.  


The O’Connells had just pulled out of their driveway and were on their way to the Ash Wednesday service when Sean looked over at Brian and said, “Dad, my teacher said you’re supposed to give something up for Lent.  Are you giving up golf?

Brian laughed. “Not a chance,” he replied.  

“How about you?” Brian asked, “Are you giving up your favorite TV show?”

“Not a chance,” Sean deadpanned.  The car erupted in laughter.  Hearing six- year-old Sean mimic his father was hilarious.

When they had settled down, Liam asked, “What would be the point, anyway?” He grumbled, “You guys only let us watch TV one hour during the week when we’re in school.”

“The whole giving up thing does seem kind of meaningless,” Anna said.  “Stacy’s mom gives up smoking or chocolate every year during Lent. Except that she really doesn’t–she gives up on giving something up. It seems pointless.” 

“Well, it can be a pointless exercise if done thoughtlessly,” noted Liz. “But it can be a very meaningful practice.  If you use the extra time you gain by fasting, in an activity that brings you closer to God, like praying, you will draw closer to God.”

She added, “And there are other important reasons behind the discipline of fasting.  If for instance, you skip a meal during Lent, it helps you understand what it is like to go hungry. You could use the money you would have spent on that meal to give to an organization that feeds the hungry.  Fasting gives you a greater appreciation for the suffering endured by so many who are forced to go without food and other necessities every day.” 

“And” Brian offered, “hopefully, you will spend the time saved in prayer or reading the Bible or other inspirational literature, which will help you grow spiritually.  But it takes discipline, and that is one of the other reasons to fast during Lent– to exercise self-discipline.”

“Yeah, well, my coach talks a lot about discipline, but he says that we shouldn’t give up food because it will make us weaker and we won’t play as well,” Liam said.

“Good point,” Liz admitted. “Especially for children and people with health problems. But fasting doesn’t have to include giving up food.”

“We’re not back to talking about giving up golf again, are we?”  teased Brian.

Liz chuckled, “No, not golf.  But what about a meaningful fast that doesn’t depend on giving up something?” Liz asked.

“I like it already,” replied Anna enthusiastically. 

Liz explained, “We mostly think about giving something up for Lent—we think of giving up things related to what the church calls our sins of commission—too much eating or drinking, or smoking, or too much time spent watching TV, etcetera.  I’m thinking about my sins of omission—the things I fail to do.”

“Like what?”  asked Anna, less intrigued by the idea.

“Like not telling you that I love you often enough.  Like not calling my mother as often as I should. Like not calling or dropping an encouraging note to a sick or distraught friend.  Like not inviting a colleague who is alone into our home to share a meal.  Like not taking the time to write a check to Food for the Poor or Bread for the World.  Like not sharing a quart of a pot of soup I make for the family.  Like not offering to take a friend to the doctor.  Like not spending enough time in prayer and meditation.  Like not reading or studying Scripture as much as I should– I could go on and on.” 

She paused, for a moment, and continued. “Basically, what I’m getting at is taking more time to express our love to God, to our family, friends, and to others. We can honor God and put feet on the gospel by resolving to give to others instead of giving up something.  

In a way, it is fasting from being self-centered and becoming more other-centered.  Does that make sense?”

Kevin had been quiet until now. “Yeah, mom, that makes sense,” he said.  

“So, what I will be doing this Lenten season is taking a few free moments here and there to write a few notes, make a few phone calls, drop a bouquet of flowers off to a sick friend—a few simple things like that.  What did Jesus say is the second most important commandment after loving God?” Liz asked.

“Loving our neighbors as ourselves,” Brian answered thoughtfully.

“And shouldn’t we do what Jesus asked us to do?” Liz asked. 

“Who knows,” she added.  “Becoming more other-centered may become a habit.”


The O’Connells walked back to their pew after receiving the cross drawn on their foreheads with ashes by Pastor Bernie, and hearing her say to each of them, “From ashes you came and to ashes you shall return.” 

Alma Meyer walked up to the pulpit for the reading:  

“A reading from the Book of James, verse 12: 

“Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.”             

As Mrs. Meyer returned to her pew, Pastor Bernie, in her white robe, rose to walk to the pulpit. 

She began, “Today we enter into Lent to remember the 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness before he began his public ministry.  Jesus was tested in the wilderness, just as we are tested in our everyday lives. 

 Jesus was alone in the wilderness, but we are blessed, because we are not alone.  We have each other. We can help each other navigate through our own spiritual wildernesses.  We know that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, and that when we approach God with a contrite heart, he will forgive our transgressions. 

As we journey through Lent, we will talk about the spiritual disciplines that Christians have practiced over the past 2000 years to grow in faith and love for God and for each other.  One of the spiritual disciplines that gets a lot of attention during Lent is the discipline of fasting.  

I heard this week that one of our Catholic friends went to confession during Lent and confessed that he had eaten meat on Friday.  

The Priest asked him what kind of meat he had eaten.

The man replied, “I had a baloney sandwich, Father.”

The Priest laughed and said, “Don’t worry about it, son—baloney isn’t even real meat!” 

She waited a minute for the giggles to die down, and continued.  

“Seriously, many people start the season of Lent by fasting from food on Ash Wednesday.  Some ask God’s help to continue a form of fasting during the six weeks of Lent, as a way of growing closer to God.  

The idea of a fast is to give up something that you normally enjoy, in order to help you focus your time and energies on spiritual growth.  Some people give up some types of food or drink during the period of Lent or activities that they normally enjoy, such as watching television, playing video games, going out, spending time on social media, etcetera. 

 The idea is to use the time you would normally spend on that activity on another activity that helps you grow closer to God—such as praying or reading and meditating on the Word or other inspirational writings.

Fasting from an activity is one discipline that can help us grow closer to God.

Here at Hope Chapel, we are familiar with the means of grace—the ways that the Holy Spirit creates faith in our hearts, forgives our sins, and assures us of salvation.  We know that we cannot save ourselves, but the Holy Spirit nurtures us in the faith through the Gospel, the rites of Holy Baptism and through Holy Communion . . . 

“During this season of Lent, we will be learning together how the Holy Spirit can work through us to help us grow spiritually through spiritual practices such as fasting, meditation and prayer, studying Scripture, solitude, serving others, confession and worship. 

We do not grow in faith on our own power.  It is the work of the Holy Spirit.  We ask for his guidance in our faith walk. 

Let the journey begin.  

Now may the peace that passes all human understanding, guard our hearts and minds.  Amen” 


Karl and Ginny Thompson followed the other parishioners filing out of the sanctuary.  Karl motioned to Ginny to go ahead and he hung back to have a word with Bernie.  Ginny was an elder and the Thompsons had been stalwart members of the congregation for many years.  Karl spoke to Bernie for a minute; Bernie nodded, and Karl rejoined Ginny as they followed the others quietly out of the sanctuary into the parking lot.