Published March 4, 2014

The following column first appeared in the March issue of the Anglican Journal

In recent years I have come to deeply appreciate the rites of smudging conducted by indigenous peoples. From a pouch containing cedar, sweet grass, sage and tobacco, an elder draws a handful and places the mixture in a shell. He or she then kindles a flame and tends it with great patience. As the embers glow, a sweet-smelling smoke begins to rise. With the feather of an eagle, the fire is fanned and the smoke bellows.

As the elder greets every person coming into the assembly or moves around the sacred circle in which they have gathered, each one in simple gestures draws the smoke toward them-into their nostrils, across their eyes, around their ears and over their heads-then toward their heart and around their upper body; then down their legs and around their feet.

This entire act is a rite of purification of body, mind and spirit in the service of the Creator.

As I think about this rite, I ask: isn’t that what Lent is all about-a clearing of our eyes, an opening of our ears, a renewing of our minds, a cleansing of our souls and a reorienting of our lives as stewards of God’s creation, followers of Jesus and ambassadors of the compassion and peace he wills for all people?

While I appreciate the significance of imposing ashes at the outset of Lent, I have come to wonder if smudging might not be an equally powerful reminder of the true character of these 40 days. I wonder what the impact might be if there was a ceremony of smudging on each Sunday in Lent-at the beginning of the liturgy or at the time of confession and intention “to lead the new life following the commandments of God and walking from henceforth in his holy ways” (Invitation to Confession, Book of Common Prayer, p. 76).

Smudging is a gentle sign of our deep desire to live more fully the vows made in baptism, and more fully the prayer with which we enter this holy season:

Thanks be to thee,
O Lord Jesus Christ,
for all the benefits
thou hast given us;
for all the pains and insults
thou hast borne for us.
O most merciful redeemer,
friend and brother,
may we know thee more clearly,
love thee more dearly,
and follow thee more nearly,
now and forever more.
-Richard, Bishop of Chichester, 1244-1253

Archbishop Fred Hiltz is primate of the Anglican Church of Canada


  • Fred Hiltz

    Archbishop Fred Hiltz was primate of the Anglican Church of Canada from 2007 to 2019.

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