Letter to Tom — Sackcloth and Ashes

Dear Tom:

 The past few days, I have thrown out Isaiah’s words about fasting and The Book of Common Prayer’s suggestion of a Lenten discipline. Frederick Buechner suggests that Lent is to some extent like tithing. As tithing in many religions suggests giving one-tenth of one’s income to holy use, during Lent, we give something of ourself to God’s use with approximately one tenth of a year, 40 days. He says after Jesus was baptized, Jesus went off into the wilderness asking himself what he meant to be Jesus. As Christians, Buechner proposes that during Lent we are supposed to ask ourselves one way or another what it means to be ourselves.

This is one approach, although I don’t think it is for me because I tend to have enough trouble with forgiving myself and engaging in mental self- punishment. He suggests that we look in the mirror and ask ourselves what do we see we like, and what do we deplore. We look at the things we have done in our life and ask which one would we undo and which one made us happiest. We are to think about if we had one message to give as we leave earth what would it be, and what would we do with the last day of our life if we knew when it would happen.

To answer these questions honestly, for me, would be very depressing business. Although I know a lot of people believe Lent is a time of sackcloth and ashes, self examination, and reflection. I just have a low tolerance for self-inflicted pain, that I would rather give these 40 days to holy use in a different way. If I am supposed to spend this time  asking what it means to be me, then I think it is more in God’s vision for me to use it thinking about the me I think God wants me to be and how do I get there, than the person I was.

We all have different paths to take during Lent. Even if sack cloth and ashes are how one chooses to  begin, the good news is the end for all of our journeys this Lent is Easter.

 Your Friend, Webb

About the author

Webb Hubbell is the former Associate Attorney General of The United States. His novels, When Men Betray, Ginger Snaps, A Game of Inches, The Eighteenth Green, and The East End are published by Beaufort Books and are available online or at your local bookstore. When Men Betray won one of the IndieFab awards for best novel in 2014. Ginger Snaps and The Eighteenth Green won the IPPY Awards Gold Medal for best suspense/thriller. His latest, “Light of Day” will be on the bookstands soon.


  1. Webb,
    I was very moved by this entry, and for a number of reasons. First, about tithing. One of our teachers recently discussed the topic, acknowledging that in the traditional Christian context it is defined as giving 10% of one’s earnings. But he also pointed out that tithing can also be 10% of one’s time. That amounts, of course, to 2.4 hours a day, which can be spent in a variety of spiritual practices – prayer, meditation, study, etc. But he also pointed out that holding a conscious intention that all I do and say during the day will be spiritual practice (e.g. love-based, deep respect, thankfulness, conscious of spirit, etc.)… that makes the 10% calculation seem not so intimidating.

    My second thought, and I apologize for the length of this, is that we all experience self-deprecation over our failures, weaknesses, and shortcomings – that’s part of human nature. But Sufis point out that we are all perfectly designed by God to be imperfect. The Sufis teach us to learn to love ourselves as well as others, embracing our imperfections and learning from them as we work to understand them and overcome them to the degree we are able. This brings to mind one of my favorite quotes from the Sufi mystic and poet, Rumi: “Come, come, whoever you are. Wanderer, worshipper, lover of leaving – it doesn’t matter. Ours is not a caravan of despair. Come, even if you have broken your vow a hundred times, come, come again, come.”

  2. Webb,
    I have always found it helpful(maybe others will too) before and during Lent to refer to the following Fast/Feast wisdom of William Arthur Ward:

    Fast from judging others; Feast on the Christ dwelling in them.
    Fast from emphasis on differences; Feast on the unity of life.
    Fast from apparent darkness; Feast on the reality of light.
    Fast from thoughts of illness; Feast on the healing power of God.
    Fast from words that pollute; Feast on phrases that purify.
    Fast from discontent; Feast on gratitude.
    Fast from anger; Feast on patience.
    Fast from pessimism; Feast on optimism.
    Fast from worry; Feast on divine order.
    Fast from complaining; Feast on appreciation.
    Fast from negatives; Feast on affirmatives.
    Fast from unrelenting pressures; Feast on unceasing prayer.
    Fast from hostility; Feast on non-resistance.
    Fast from bitterness; Feast on forgiveness.
    Fast from self-concern; Feast on compassion for others.
    Fast from personal anxiety; Feast on eternal truth.
    Fast from discouragements; Feast on hope.
    Fast from facts that depress; Feast on verities that uplift.
    Fast from lethargy; Feast on enthusiasm.
    Fast from thoughts that weaken; Feast on promises that inspire.
    Fast from shadows of sorrow; Feast on the sunlight of serenity.
    Fast from idle gossip; Feast on purposeful silence.
    Fast from problems that overwhelm; Feast on prayer that [strengthens].

    Ever the Swirl Girl, this is just too much feasting, but just one or two could provide a sumptuous banquet to be shared with many.


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