This is my 70th Ash Wednesday. Admittedly, I didn’t pay much attention to the first fifteen or so. We Presbyterians did have an Ash Wednesday service at church, but we didn’t get that smudge of ash back then as the Catholics did. In fact, I don’t even remember when the “imposition of ashes” finally found its way to my personal forehead.

I recall a Montreat Youth Conference that celebrated the liturgical year, Advent to Pentecost, all in one week, including an “Ash Wednesday” when our leadership team risked applying ashes to 1200 foreheads as teenagers entered the Anderson Auditorium for worship. Many youth and their adult leaders refused the black mark, saying that was something “the Catholics” do, not us Presbyterians for heaven’s sake.

Now, decades later, we Presbyterians do offer ashes, thus living up to the designation of this first day of Lent: Ash Wednesday. And now that Lent has begun, what shall I do with it? My pastor suggested in an Ash Wednesday meditation a couple years back that we change course along the traditional Lenten journey: instead of giving something up, perhaps taking something up would be a way to engage anew the idea of sacrifice along the road to the cross.

I took up blogging, taking time each day in Lent to write and to risk writing publicly.

I began a daily discipline of writing about forty people who had nurtured my spiritual journey. I called the blog entries “Forty I Have Followed.” (That series is still available in the early entries of this “Peace, Grace, and Jazz” blog.) I didn’t make a list of “the” forty. I just sat down at the keyboard each day and another person occurred to me, and I wrote our story.

I had no idea that my personal remembrances of special people in my life, from childhood to retirement, would touch so many hearts. Somehow, people found that I had written about them or about their loved ones, or people they too respected and treasured. I received email, hand-written notes, and phone calls thanking me for my “good words.” I was touched that they were touched. Even today, apparently someone will Google the name of a friend, relative, teacher, or mentor, and my blog surfaces, with words of gratitude, appreciation, and respect for those whose lives nurtured mine.

And here we are: Lent again. What to do this time? I’ve decided to write the “book” my parents urged me to write many years ago. They encouraged me to write about my experiences in the churches I served, stories they heard from me in letters and phone calls, tales they had thought so interesting, those two parents who were no longer involved with church, but who had been married in the very church my wife Joan and I now attend, the church in which I was baptized, confirmed, and ordained… the church in which more recently the pastor had challenged us to take something up for Lent.

So, tomorrow, the day after we shall have received our ashes, I will begin reflecting on my adventures, missteps, encounters, small victories, and relationships in the various churches that risked calling me to pastoral work. My parents have been gone now for awhile, but maybe the blogosphere reaches to heaven. This is for sure: I will write thoughtfully, carefully, and thankfully about my ministries. Yes, confessions and celebrations…that will about cover it.