Lent Week 1: I Forgot About Ash Wednesday

Hey everybody! Long time no blog! Things have been pretty nuts lately and the motivation to write seemed to dry up for a time, but here we are again, fonder for the absence. Hopefully.

So, jumping back on the saddle I considered doing a Lent series like I did for Advent, when I wrote one blog post for each day of the holy season. Then I re-considered. Advent was a beautiful experiment and I'm happy about much of the work I did that month but the hard truth is it almost killed me. I'm not yet capable enough a writer to handle that stress and still live a healthy life apart from it. So I took to facebook for advice (as one does nowadays), and was encouraged by some wise friends, mentors and peers to instead write semi-regular posts, once a week or twice a month. So that's exactly what I've resolved to do, because, as overwhelming as the project seemed at the time, it sure helped me engage and meditate on the spiritual realities and disciplines at play during Advent.

And Lent is another one of those traditions wholly foreign to my people (proper Evangelicals). As I mentioned last time around, we largely tend to ignore the Church Calendar because it seems ritualistic, archaic and just plain... ooky. We get weirded out by it. But that's on us, not on our brothers and sisters who remember and retain the beautiful, historical practices of the Calendar, who recognize ritual can engage the head, hands and heart in service of God. Granted, ritual cannot replace authentic relationship with God, but I see no reason to throw the baby out with the holy water.

Just as Advent commemorates the Jews' period of waiting for their Messiah, Lent draws us into a spirit of solemnity, penitence and solidarity with those in sorrow. Lent is about excavating the depths of human experience, about going there, going down, into the abyss. Lent is about self-denial, discipline and refinement. And Lent is about wandering in the wilderness, as did Jesus for those forty days, hungry, overheated, lost and, if we take the incarnation seriously, scared. Lent is not about the feel goods or the happy fun times.

So it starts with Ash Wednesday (last Wednesday). I forgot about Ash Wednesday on the actual day, and became pretty frustrated with myself immediately after the fact. I forgot for all the aforementioned reasons, but really chief among them is my ever-present, never-dying propensity to see the world through my own myopic lens, to be so curved inward I forget about the bigger things, the beautiful things, the eternal things. So on this day I try to externalize my focus, to see the world outside myself through new eyes. God willing, His eyes.

Many Christians fast on Ash Wednesday, as I have once or twice. Fasting is a reminder how we need God even more than food, a profound, difficult (for me) practice in letting go of even my survival instincts, trusting God to provide and to care and to love me as I know He will. Fasting. I would like to try it again some time this Lenten season.

It is also a day to mourn, to remember our mortality and frailty, and this strikes a booming, resonant chord in my soul. This year, for whatever reason, I feel closer to death. I suppose each year brings us all closer to death, but for whatever reason it seems so potent for me this year. I guess it's because my exiting college brought me into true adulthood: working for a living, paying bills and making home away from family. This is the phase of life I will ride straight into my grave. Which, God-willing will be years down the line even though I'm certainly not promised as much. And given my health, my already falling-apart body and my tendency for accidental self-harm I'm lucky for each new day.

I could die tomorrow. I could get abducted, hit by a meteor, mugged and beaten, get cancer, choke. I don't mean to sound morbid but this is the plain truth. Life on earth is a blip on the radar screen of eternity but it is all we know and I'm afraid to leave it. I'm afraid to leave those I love behind. So I must trust God with this mortal coil. This fleshbag. This tightly compacted pile of dust.

I hope I get to help people before I leave. I hope I leave them better off. I hope I have more time.

As I make the ash cross on my forehead, the sacrament of Ash Wednesday, I think both about ash and cross. Ash, the residue of fire, scattered molecules settling into dust. God made us from this dust, and until Glory comes it is to this dust we return.

The cross, where even God died. Where the Creator and Sustainer of the universe stooped low enough to be seen, heard, known, loved and murdered by His children. And until Easter that's all the story we have.

So we mourn. We engage the Deep Sadness rather than compartmentalizing it. Americans (myself included) typically have such an impoverished view of grief it is no wonder we are absolutely wrecked by it when it comes knocking, when we are forced by circumstance out of our safety and comfort and into the throes of sorrow. So instead of waiting for grief to come for us we meet it on the road, we participate in the ancient art of being present in sadness, and trusting that somehow, counterintuitively, so is the God of the cross.

What do I mourn?

I mourn the day my God died.

I mourn the loss of loved ones to death, injury and disease, and praise God the list happens to be small for me.

I mourn for those who lost themselves along the way, who gave their identities over to alcohol or drugs, reckless living or sexual brokenness, and who forgot the love of the one true God who brings health, love and wholeness in His wake. I pray for those who settle for lovers so less wild, so less beautiful and trustworthy than our Lord.

I mourn the loss of friendships, of people I love more than my own self who walked away from me this year, who decided I was not worth their time, effort or affection. I mourn my own past which has so accustomed me to this brand of abandonment. And I pray for those who leave, that God will wend their prodigal ways back around to me. Or at least to Him. I pray some day we will be together in the arms of our Lord and the mistrust, aggression and fear of abandonment will have washed away, replaced by love, grace, camaraderie and freedom to be.

I mourn my broken condition, my self-consciousness and shame, my pettiness and prejudice. I pray God would continue to reshape me, to bathe me in ash and wash me in the water, emerging new and whole and beautiful. To restore me to the image of my design, naked and unashamed.

I mourn for a world in which violence, manipulation, subjugation and inequity are not merely rampant but status quo. I see this place, and know in my knower it ought not to be this way. We were made for a better world. So from the ashes of this disaster grow the roses of success Lord. Grow the roses, grow the roses.


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