Star-Bulletin Features

Saturday, February 16, 2002

In Mexico City, Manuel Hernandez prayed after he received ashes this week during Ash Wednesday, marking the start of 40 days of Lent.

among the ashes

Lent gives isle churches a chance
to reclaim some meaningful rituals

Where to go to attend Lenten services

By Mary Adamski

Talk about timing. The day of solemnity and repentance was all the more stark because it was sandwiched between days of communal celebration and conspicuous consumption.

Tuesday, it was Chinese New Year, Kung Hee Fat Choy! Thursday, it was chocolates for Valentine's Day.

Wednesday, it was fasting and ashes.

People sat wrapped in silence at Nuuanu Congregational Church during a pause for internally "naming and confessing sins," a longer stretch of quiet time than passing boom box-equipped commuters could even bear.

The timeworn vow to give up candy for Lent wasn't even mentioned as St. Patrick's School students made vows to direct their thoughts and actions to spiritual growth.

Harris United Methodist Church members were given an assignment to "reflect on a time in your life when you were bearing a cross," a recollection they will expand and explore for the next six weeks.

Dozens of Christian congregations observed Ash Wednesday in services that set the scene for Lent. They will continue with events intended to bring spiritual renewal during the 40-day countdown to Easter, the church's major festival celebrating Christ's resurrection.

Guadalupe Gonzalez received ashes on her forehead during the religious celebration of Ash Wednesday this week in Mexico City.

"In this time of arrogance, mistrust and dishonesty, we need to return to God with fasting and mourning," said the Rev. Thomas Fujita, weaving current news and scriptural context for Nuuanu church members. "We gather to face our sins. It's not an easy thing to do; you can see that from the small number here."

In place of the usual gorgeous floral arrangement, rough boughs bound by rope into a cross were the focal point in the sanctuary.

Fujita and co-pastors Phyllis Meighen and Yoko Asada applied ashes to foreheads in the sign of a cross as they declared "remember you are dust and unto dust you shall return."

Lent dates back to the first century of the church, but Ash Wednesday wasn't established in the liturgical calendar until the seventh century. Like other practices that evolved during the church's history, it was ditched in the Protestant Reformation.

The first New England missionaries to Hawaii, spiritual ancestors of this church, wouldn't have any truck with this ritual. Nor do many fundamentalist, Bible-only churches today.

Ukrainian Cardinal Jozef Tomko smudged ashes on the head of Pope John Paul II this week on Ash Wednesday at the Vatican. The ritual is a symbolic reminder of mortality. The pope's aide, Bishop Piero Marini, looked on.

"We are reclaiming some things that were meaningful," Meighen said. "People are looking for visual, auditory, sensory ways to get closer to God."

At St. Patrick's Church, ashes were applied with the query, "Will you turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel?"

The morning Mass was packed to the choir loft after the student body marched in to join parishioners.

"We're not asking you to give something up ... but to do something. We're asking for an attitude change," said the Rev. Lane Akiona. "Jesus made the sacrifice. No more sacrifice is needed."

Each class stood and responded, "We do," as eighth-grader Jason Himmelmann recited the promises the students and their teachers had crafted in earlier discussions. For kindergartners it was a vow to "be good to your parents and do your best always." First-graders promised to "make good choices"; fourth-graders would try to "be humble of heart, full of compassion and a maker of peace"; and eighth-graders to "acknowledge your sins and pray for forgiveness from the Lord ... restore broken friendships and seek strength in those close to you."

Adult Catholics checked the printed reminder about Lenten fasting -- only one moderate meal, two small meals and no in-between snacking in effect this day and Good Friday -- and abstinence from meat, including broth or gravy, on Wednesday and the six Fridays ahead.

Only old-timers from elsewhere remember when fasting was a daily Lenten penance and meat was taboo every Friday of the year. For reasons clouded in missionary history, the rules never applied to Hawaii.

The noontime congregation at Harris United Methodist Church heard the same Bible texts read as at the other churches. Old Testament prophet Joel admonished people to return to the Lord "with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping and with mourning. Rend your hearts and not your clothing."

At Harris the symbolism was there as coals burned down in a hibachi, but Pastor Gary Barbaree dispensed with the ritual for a combined practical and spiritual reason. Dried fronds from last Palm Sunday are usually burned to ash but weren't available this time. He pointed to the Gospel of Matthew, where Jesus told his followers "do not look dismal" to show off that they were fasting, as good cause to focus on hearts instead of foreheads.

Cross-marked cards were strung like laundry across the Harris sanctuary. The pastor urged people to use the cards to chronicle some difficult time or event in their life recognizing "in retrospect it was a cross."

"Maybe the event is gone, but you are still carrying that empty cross. Maybe the woundedness you felt is still there, waiting to be healed."

Each week, there will be another blank card to fill as participants meditate on the problem and progress, so that "at the end of the journey was a victory."

If all goes as Barbaree hopes, this year's meditations will become a "Ways of the Cross" guide for next year.

Several people remarked that Lent is early this year. Yes and no. Last year, Ash Wednesday was on Feb. 28, but it could be as early as Feb. 4. The key is that Easter is calculated using the lunar calendar and the spring equinox. Its date must occur from March 22 to April 25.



Here’s where you can go
to attend Lenten services

Star-Bulletin staff

Lent will be observed at various local churches.

>> At Christ Church Uniting Disciples and Presbyterians in Kailua, people attending the 10 a.m. service tomorrow will separate into small groups to share thoughts and experiences. The theme "Journey to Jerusalem: Together, Deeper, Simpler" will be carried through on successive Sundays at the church, at 1300 Kailua Road. Pastor Buddy Summers will step aside after short sermons, and the choir will sing meditative chants. There will be activities for children.

>> At St. Andrew's Cathedral, the Labyrinth will be open from 8 a.m. to noon tomorrow and every Sunday during Lent. Individuals may make the meditative walk along the patterned pathway. The Labyrinth in Davies Hall on the grounds at Queen Emma Square is open to all interested persons. Information is available from Honey Becker, 524-2822, ext. 250.

>> The Lutheran Church of Honolulu will present a discussion series Wednesday nights on "Where Is God When It Hurts?" Each discussion will start at 7:30 p.m., after a 6 p.m. soup-and-salad supper and a 7 p.m. evening prayer service, at 1730 Punahou St. The Rev. David Barber will discuss "Is pain a message from God?" and "How does faith help?" Peter Yancey's book "Where Is God When It Hurts" will be used; copies are available for $3.

>> St. Christopher's Episcopal Church, at 93 N. Kainalu Drive, Kailua, will begin a Wednesday series combining a 6 p.m. soup supper with conversation about radical discipleship. Michael Slaughter's book "Real Followers" will be used to guide discussion.

>> At Harris United Methodist Church, 20 S. Vineyard Blvd., each Wednesday service will begin at 5:30 p.m. with participants creating a courtyard labyrinth with stones or grain. A lay person will speak at 6:30 p.m., and supper will be shared.

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