Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Preparation for Transcendence

Today the Christian calendar celebrates ‘Ash Wednesday’. What is the significance of this start day and why we have a forty day period of the season of Lent as a precursor to the event of resurrection of Jesus from death? I have earlier pointed out that we make the mistake of treating the Biblical events as purely historical rather then symbolic narration in a historical context.

The significance of the start day is that forty days before the day of crucifixion always falls on Wednesday, as usually a lunar calendar is used for fixing the day of Easter.
It is also important to note that Wednesday, in Hebrew chronology was fourth day of the week as the Sabbath was on the Saturday. The fourth day was the day on which light and darkness were separated in the creation story of Genesis. It is a day of new consciousness.

The Hebrew letter
‘mem’ is the thirteenth letter and corresponds to the same position in a full expression of twenty two letters of the Hebrew alphabets as the fourth day in a week of seven days. The number value of ‘mem’ is forty. As I had written in my earlier blog titled “Discernment for Spiritual Elevation‘mem’, the letter of "water" (mayim) symbolizes the fountain of the Divine Wisdom of Torah. Just as the waters of a physical fountain (spring) ascend from their unknown subterranean source (the secret of the abyss in the account of Creation) to reveal themselves on earth, so does the fountain of wisdom express the power of flow from the super conscious source. In the terminology of Kabbalah, this flow is from keter ("crown") to chochmah ("wisdom"). The stream is symbolized in Proverbs as "the flowing stream, the source of wisdom.

As Vivekmani Lakra, writes in the Times of India ‘Speaking Tree’ column; “The reasons as to why the Lenten season is observed for a period of forty days are many. There is an important relation of the number 'forty' with the Holy Bible. We can find in the book of Exodus of the Old Testament that Moses prayed to God while staying on Mount Sinai for forty days. After getting freedom from the Pharaoh of Egypt, the Israelites travelled for forty long years to reach their native land, Israel. During Noah’s time, it rained continuously for forty days and the whole earth was flooded
(Genesis 7:17). And before beginning His ministry Jesus fasted and prayed for forty days in the desert (Luke 44:2-13), he was laid in the tomb for forty hours after his death and before He was taken up into Heaven, He stayed with His people for forty days (John 21). Hence the number 'forty' has been included by different churches in the Lent as a numeral of great significance.”

Hence 'forty' symbolizes a period of fullness usually associated with transcending from a lower level of consciousness to a higher level. The Lenten period, which starts with smearing of Ash on the forehead of the faithful on Ash Wednesday, represents an intense period of realization that we are the creation in God’s image and the body that has been given to us is only a vehicle of the supernal energy which is our true nature. This journey culminates on Calvary where the merging of the horizontal dimension of human creation and the vertical dimension of divine transcendence takes place on the cross which is the great symbol of Christian faith. A true Christian is an integrated and fully realized being of his humanity and divinity.

While fasting and other acts of external rituals aid us in this process of deeper realization, it is the inner purification that is more important. This is reflected in Prophet Joel’s saying; “Now therefore”, says the Lord, “turn to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning. So rend your heart, and not your garments”
(Joel 2:12-13).

Love to you all


  1. Having born as Christians and having gone through the years and years of rituals,a tendency has set in to overlook the spiritual significance of such days.It is the ash that strikes your mind and not the real meaning.Even when you draw the cross on the forehead,it is instinctual rather than a concious act.Our horizontal and ritualistic journey will reach the ultimate destination only when we transcend to the vertical and divine truth.As the cross is embedded in our conciousness,it is upto us to choose the level of our spirituality.