Tag Archives: Ash Wednesday

Remember that you are (star)dust…

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Ash Wednesday held new meaning for me this year with the stage IV cancer diagnosis. I’m six days in to my unplanned medical sabbatical (what I prefer to call my time on medical disability), and it’s been sobering to observe my body finally coming off of the adrenaline high that kept me going for far too long. This day has given me the permission to speak truth: I am tired. I am weary. My body needs this time of rest if there’s any chance to recover, heal, and hear those magic words “No Evidence of Disease.” I won’t get there by depending on myself or any imagined “super hero” abilities to defy death and appear magically in control.

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” These are the powerful and painful words my friend and colleague said as she marked my forehead with ashes this morning. I deliberately chose the quiet chapel service at the church she serves because I needed safe space to experience this moment in a new way, in the shadow of dis-ease and with the words “terminal” and “palliative” still ringing in my ears.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not throwing in the towel. I’m not crying “uncle” to the cancer cells. Not a chance! What I am doing is entering the season of Lent by acknowledging that the shadow of death is just over my shoulder, and my hope lies in God and God alone. But this is true for all of us. None of us is promised more than the present moment; we just choose to live like we have an unlimited span of life ahead. We can wipe that cross off our foreheads, but we can’t erase the truth of it.

Yep, nothing like Ash Wednesday and a cancer diagnosis to set the record straight. This is also a powerful gift to carry into the 40 days of Lent. Without this journey to the cross, without death, there can be no resurrection and no promise of real and lasting life. Only by walking the road to Jerusalem with Jesus and looking unflinchingly at death is there lasting hope or reason to live for something beyond oneself. This is the only path to the risen Christ.

Death will come for all of us–sooner or later. Deny it all you want; it won’t change the truth of it. Every day is a gift of God. Every breath is Spirit-infused. All of creation is held together in Christ. Or, as Eugene Peterson so beautifully renders this idea in The Message (Colossians 1:18b-20):

“From beginning to end he’s there, towering far above everything, everyone. So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross.”

None of us makes it to Easter without the painful reality of Lent. We need that ash cross to tattoo truth smack between our eyes. But here’s the thing: we are not just the dust you dump out of the vacuum bag into the rubbish bin. We are stardust. We are inextricably linked to one another, to all of creation, and to the Christ.

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As my friend marked that ashen cross on my forehead and said those somber words, I took courage and comfort in knowing there is so much more. Cancer may strip me of all my illusions of security, invincibility, and layers of self-defined identity and worth, but it will never have the last word. That belongs to God, and here is truth for me–and for you, for all of us: “Remember that you are the stuff of stardust, and to stardust you shall return.”

(Photos: sblezard and Gianni, Creative Commons License. Thanks!)

 

 

Oh Ashy Day!

Ash Wednesday Snow Day

Ashes and snow. Black and white that melts into shades of gray. When our bishop made the ashen sign of the cross on my forehead today I was both reminded of my mortality, of my foolish and sinful nature, and of the amazing hope of real life–eternal life–that I have in Jesus. Yes, this prodigal love and unmerited grace that Jesus extends reminds me of the pristine, sparkling snow that covers the dull, dingy landscape of this Pennsylvania winter. The love of our Lord makes everything new and clean and brightly hopeful again. Nothing, and no one, is beyond his gentle reach.

We live in the already and the not yet, in the gray area between yesterday and eternity. We are no longer forsaken but truly forgiven. Still the ash cross reminds me that my days here are numbered. I came from dust (really stardust if you want to be accurate about it) and to dust of the cosmos and beyond comprehension.

So Lord, teach me to number my days. Instruct me to amend and consider my ways. You do not desire pithy piety or rusty religiosity. You desire a real fast from my earthbound self, a radical reorientation and returning to your way. Yes, Lord, this cross on my forehead and the snow all around remind me of your glory and your goodness. I am so thankful that you love my dusty and imperfect human being self and that you are constantly reforming me to reflect your light and love. Ashes and snow. Dust and stardust. Grace and mercy. And above all love. Oh, ashy, snowy day!

 

Simple Lent Begins

Today is the first day of Lent. I’ve taken a short break from the blog due to an overly busy schedule and the need to prepare for this series–Simple Lent.

For those of you who don’t keep Lent there will still be much of value for you in this 40 day series. Do keep checking in. The emphasis will be on examining identity and on simplifying life by stripping away non-essentials to live the days you are given fully and joyfully.

Ashes: Reminder and New Beginning

This day in the liturgical Christian tradition is Ash Wednesday. Priests and pastors will rub the ashes from last year’s Palm Sunday palms into each person’s forehead in the shape of a cross. This simple act with its words “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” illustrates the reality that our time here on earth is fleeting.

Every year my spouse and I undertake the duty of burning the palms and preparing the ashes for our congregations. One can buy ashes–sifted, smooth, and silky–for Ash Wednesday, but somehow it doesn’t seem right to purchase them. Just as life must be lived and cannot be bought, so too the palms should be burned, the ashes sifted and pulverized. It is dirty work, humble work, and in a way, holy work. The joy of Palm Sunday is reduced to a tiny pile of dust, changed in form and reduced to almost nothing. As I said, it is humbling to witness.

Burning the ashes raises a question that is also a lament: Why do we so complicate our time and our lives? This question has been asked through the ages, and unfortunately is nothing new. British poet William Wordsworth wrote “The world is too much with us; late and soon/Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:/Little we see in nature that is ours;/We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

The cross of ashes sears into our soul the bittersweet news that time is elusive and fleeting. Our days are short and are made for more than getting and spending, more than rushing here and there, and more than turning inward to focus on our temporary existence of flesh and bone.

The soul seeks more. The soul is the self burned away, the beautiful remainder of our identity as created beings designed for relationship, for love, and for sharing.

This day, whether you bear the ashen cross on your forehead or whether you simply reflect on your life and its meaning, commit to a 40 day process of stripping away that which is nonessential. Accept the invitation to reduce the adiaphora of your life to ashes.

Remember, from ashes mixed with good soil new life may spring. The seed may grow, flower, and bear fruit. But nothing new will ever grow if the detritus of life covers and chokes the garden.

What is your hope? What are your dreams? What is essential? Ask the questions. Strip away the layers. Welcome to Simple Lent.

Thanksliving Activity:

Here’s one of my favorite songs by the group Casting Crowns. “American Dream” addresses the question of what’s really important and what matters. What is your dream? To what do you cling? What legacy are you building?

 

Photos by dennysmagikland and auntjojo. Thanks!

Day One: Bye, Bye Books & Thank You, Mom

My forehead smudged by a dusty cross and the words of the prophet Joel ringing in my ears, I completed day one of my Lenten journey and kick-started my 40/40/40  plan.

Honoring Relationships

I have a list of way more than 40 people I want to thank. I started with my mother; after all, she gave me life and taught me the majority of my life lessons. She’s also set a dandy example when it comes to faith, strength, giving, and compassion. I’m lucky she’s my mom!

Giving Possessions

I decided the first possessions I need to let go of are books. I found half a dozen books I can live without, and instead of offering them for trade on Paperbackswap.com, I am taking them to our local library for their used book sale. I kind of figured it would be cheating to put them up for trade and bring more books into the house when I’m trying to divest myself of stuff.

Thanksgiving

I am thankful for our Ash Wednesday service tonight. It is one of the most meaningful worship services of the year for me. I am quite partial to the lessons appointed for this day, and the liturgy is moving.

I also had a good time burning last years palms with my husband. He had the wonderful idea of using a propane torch and a tin can. It was efficient, quick, and didn’t smell anything up too badly (especially since we had a strong wind today).  I’m thankful we can share parts of our ministry with each other.

How about you? If you keep Lent, how did you start off the season?

Leaning into Lent: Thankful for Donuts and Dust

My daughter and I went to see a completely brainless but funny romantic comedy tonight (gotta love $5 movie Tuesdays) and split a bag of donuts in celebration of Fastnacht (Shrove Tuesday), so I suppose I’m officially ready for Lent to begin tomorrow with an Ash Wednesday smudge on the forehead. All kidding aside, I look forward to Lent each year. I like the disciplines of reflection and intentionality that are a part of the 40 days, and I appreciate the opportunity to slow down a little bit and think about my relationship with God, humankind, and creation.

I have long since passed the days of contemplating the “giving-up goodies” aspect associated with this penitential season. Instead, each year I try to think carefully about how I can be more aware — to be conscious of my choices and how my decisions ripple outward in impact.

As a United States citizen, even one who falls solidly in the shrinking middle class, I am among the world’s wealthiest people. I have much, much more than I need, so to my way of thinking that makes me all the more responsible for my consumption. It isn’t fair for me as a person of faith to randomly exercise my privilege without thinking how my choices affect my neighbors both near and far.

Just because I have a laptop (for work), a cell phone (old school freebie), an iPod, digital camera and Nook (hand-me-downs from dear daughters), and a car (a sensible compact sedan) doesn’t make me any brighter, better, or more worthy. It simply means that by accident of birth, I lucked into living in a part of the world that makes it relatively easy to amass stuff, to have access to education and healthcare, and to enjoy an abundance of freedoms.

No, there will be no blithe giving up of something like chocolate or desserts or coffee or television for me. This year I’m leaning into Lent as I would a strong north wind. I hope to use these days and my personal meditation and devotions to contemplate issues of justice, consumption, and equity. Sure,I try to do this on a daily basis, but I want to be intentional about it.

Supposedly it takes about 21 days to change a habit, so I figure 40 days + Sundays should give me plenty of time to shed stuff and count my blessings; hopefully, in doing so, I will experience a lasting change and move a little closer toward my goal of minimalism.

Here’s the plan. Each day during Lent I will commit to giving away one possession. I’ll also spend some time thinking about why I am thankful to be able to share that possession with someone else. Finally, I will tell someone I care about each and every day why I value that person.

So, 40 days – 40 possessions + 40 thanksgivings + honoring 40 relationship = an intentional Lenten discipline. I invite you to join me on the journey and to share how you will be leaning into Lent this year.

I look forward to receiving that ashen cross-shaped ashen smudge tomorrow. For I am dust, I am connected to this earth in a fundamental and elemental way. Thanks to the cross, I am also connected to the God that created, loves, and cherishes all people and all this earth. Donuts are dandy, but I am particularly thankful for dust.

Photos by khawkins04 and Sara Korf used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!