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Ash and Oil: March 9

I will heal their disloyalty; I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them. I will be like the dew to Israel; he shall blossom like the lily, he shall strike root like the forests of Lebanon. His shoots shall spread out; his beauty shall be like the olive tree, and his fragrance like that of Lebanon. They shall again live beneath my shadow, they shall flourish as a garden; they shall blossom like the vine, their fragrance shall be like the wine of Lebanon. (Hosea 14: 4-7)

The lovely Lenten hymn, "O My People, Turn to Me", is based on Hosea 14, in which Israel is urged to turn away from its iniquity and idolatry and back towards the Lord. The hymn, just as the passage on which it is based, describes the repentant people blooming like flowers, like beautiful trees with roots spread far and wide, fragrant and flourishing.

Israel has turned from the Lord time and time again. They have set their hearts on other things, and they have put up idols. Yet God so deeply desires his children back that he proclaims: “I will heal their disloyalty; I will love them freely.” God will take the responsibility of rehabilitation upon himself, if only Israel will humble itself enough to accept it. The result of this acceptance is the turning from sin toward the Lord, and the product is a beauty, productivity and flourishing almost too lovely to imagine.

In sin, we fade--our roots dry up. We lose lovely blooms and nourishing fruits. Sin shrivels, and leaves us thirsty for living water. But God promises that he will be the dew that refreshes us. When we turn back to God, our roots grow deep and we become beautiful and lush.

“I am like an evergreen cypress,” says the Lord. Always green and ever present, providing shade over us, and giving us protection from harsh conditions. It is in our God, not anywhere else, that we find true delight and nourishment.

What are those things we must turn from this Lenten season (and always) to receive that new life and growth? What are the things we allow to become idols and distractions from God?

Pray: We echo the words of Israel, Lord. Take away our guilt, and accept that which is good. Heal our disloyalty, and let us flourish like a garden in your presence.

Take the next step: Give yourself a visual reminder of deep roots and flourishing life while communing with creation! Consider planting a tree native to your area. According to the American Forestry Association, if every American family planted just one tree, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere would be reduced by one billion pounds annually. Find out which trees are native to your area here.

[Image: Flickr user M24Instudio]

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