A Spiritual Almanac is a production of Granola Soul

A Spiritual Almanac: Ash Wednesday

Feb 17, 2021

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In 1941, Thomas Merton arrived at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky to be admitted to the monastery. They made him wait in a guest house. So, to prove his sincerity, he sat in front of an open window for three days and had a severe cold by the time they accepted him as a postulant.

Early on, Merton’s superiors recognized he had an aptitude for writing and encouraged him to pursue his craft. He would go on to create and publish some of the most meaningful and engaging religious literature of the twentieth century.

As we enter Lent, we’re taking a look at an excerpt from Merton’s 1956 work, Thoughts in Solitude. It’s titled “A Lenten Prayer.”



(Excerpted from Thoughts in Solitude)

By Thomas Merton


My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that, if I do this,
You will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore I will trust you always
though I may seem to be lost
and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.


FOR ADDITIONAL READING: See Thoughts in Solitude by Thomas Merton

More nuggets for today:

Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday is one of the more unusual holidays in the Christian tradition and marks the beginning of Lent — a 40-day period of repentance, fasting and reflection during the build-up to Easter Sunday. It’s celebrated by Christians across denominations and typically involves the ashes of burnt palm branches used in the previous year’s Palm Sunday celebration.

The formal observance of Lent stretches back to the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. But the custom of Ash Wednesday didn’t appear on the scene until the Middle Ages when priests began making the sign of the cross on parishioners’ foreheads.

The practice wasn’t entirely new. The symbolism of ashes dates back to the Old Testament era when people marked themselves with ashes as a sign of mourning or even guilt.

In liturgical practice, ashes symbolize death and repentance, and are an outward sign of the inward journey Christians navigate during the Lenten season.

Although Ash Wednesday observances are fairly standard in the U.S., traditions vary around the world. For example, in Croatia, Ash Wednesday is the final day of the Fifth Season of Carnival. In celebration, Croatians burn something called a fasnik — a life-size wooden doll that represents the immoral and questionable behavior celebrants engaged in during the previous year.

And in Ukraine, Ash Wednesday begins Velyky Pist or the “Great Fast” of the Ukrainian Orthodox church. Nothing hot can be cooked or eaten on Ash Wednesday and Ukrainians skip breakfast altogether. In the past, Ukrainian youth were forced to stay home for the entire first week of Lent. But these days, Ukrainians have lightened up on that practice a bit.

In a modern twist, U.S. and European churches have started practicing “ashes to go” on Ash Wednesday. Rather than distributing ashes in a church, clergy take to the streets and apply ashes to the foreheads of the faithful in parking lots or other public places. This year, more churches are planning to offer ashes to go or other variations of the custom to comply with pandemic guidelines.

Finally, our word of wisdom for today come to us from the great American poet, Maya Angelou. She said:

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you”.

Maybe today is the day your untold story gets to be told. I hope it is. And that’s today’s Spiritual Almanac.

For additional reading, see Thoughts in Solitude by Thomas Merton. 

A Spiritual Almanac is a production of Granola Soul. You can find the complete transcript of today’s episode, Thomas Merton’s “Lenten Prayer” and other resources at our website, www.GranolaSoul.com.

Thanks for listening. Until next time, be kind and take good care.


“Lenten Prayer” by Thomas Merton. Excerpted from Thoughts in Solitude. Fair use.

Download episodes of “A Spiritual Almanac” podcast at https://spiritualalmanac.buzzsprout.com.

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