Beauty for ashes

To explain a long story in a short and cryptic way, life has been a bit topsy-turvy lately.  God knew that I have been living the cozy life for far too long and I needed an awakening.  The world didn’t end like I thought it might at first, and every day I grow in fresh and new understanding of God’s goodness and mercy.  We are in the messy middle of it, and I knew well enough from the beginning to pray for peace in the midst of that space, rather than a tie-it-up-with-a-perfect-bow-and-please-God-do-it-fast kind of resolution.  So we pray, and we wait, and we wonder about how God is going to work.  I’m nowhere near a Proverbs 31 woman, but I do smile when I think about the future.  At least I do on my good days. 

So this brings me to Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten season.  It didn’t sneak up on me this year.  It’s been on my mind because of my plans for practicing it as a family.  But  I have also been rather looking forward to entering into it as a part of the greater body of the Church.  We all bear our crosses in some way, shape, or form.  I’m glad I don’t feel this way alone.  

Here is a bit about Lent from the book, Good Dirt- Lent, Holy Week, and Eastertide by Lacy Finn Borgo.  This is the book we’ll be reading through together this year.  

It seems Christmastide and Advent, with all their indulgences, are seasons custom-made for children, but what about Lent? What do we do with children and death? Aren’t we to teach them to live? Herein lies the paradox. It is our job to teach them to live, but they must also learn to die to themselves in order to really live. They must learn to die to having their own way, and they must learn to give away what they have in order to receive what God has for them. If we live in a constant state of indulgence we will never live a whole life. When we deny ourselves, die to our wants and needs, wholeness seeps into us and we live. Lent is our salvation from the superfluous....Our children will watch us choose, and it is my experience that they will follow.  We teach them to die, by dying ourselves.  Can’t you see it? The Kingdom of God stands on its head in defiance of a world that says, “Get all you can and share with no one.” When we say “no” to our wants, we can say “yes” to the needs of others. Lent is our chance to collectively say, “We give all we can and share with those in need.” In Lent we discover that self-denial makes our families richer instead of poorer.

The more I dig into the bare-bones of Lent and strip away the complicated, the more beautiful it becomes.  I’m entering into it as a child this year.  Today we talked about sins such as hitting our siblings.  We played with fire and drew cross-shaped ashes on our foreheads.  We’re filling an empty jar with sunflower seeds for our acts of prayer, fasting, or giving for the next forty days.  Ellis gave Jesse his last few crusts of peanut butter bread just to drop another seed in before bed this evening.  I'm not sure how much sacrifice was involved, but it's a start!  I did the dishes when I really wanted to watch When Calls the Heart on Netflix, does that count?  I think I’ll be as giddy as the kids will be when that (hopefully) full jar of small seeds will be replaced with something sweet come Easter Sunday.   

"Ash Wednesday propels us into a season that inspires us to learn once again that what God creates and graces and blesses may be beset and broken but not destroyed. Life finds its way: ancient memory takes hold, follows the path of the ash, inscribes itself anew, beauty blazing from the wreck and ruin. “We are treated…as dying,” Paul writes in the Ash Wednesday reading from the Epistles, “and see—we are alive; as punished and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.”

And you: here on the threshold of Lent, amid the ashes, what do you possess? As we enter this season that pares our lives down to what is absolutely essential and basic and elemental, what do you hold as most important? Is there anything you need to allow to become ash, that it may be transformed into something new? Beneath what seems dying or destroyed, what life might yet take hold?

Blessing for Ash Wednesday

So let the ashes come

as beginning

and not as end;

the first sign

but not the final.
Let them rest upon you
as invocation and invitation,
and let them take you
the way that ashes know
to go.

May they mark you

with the memory of fire

and of the life

that came before the burning:

the life that rises and returns
and finds its way again.

See what shimmers

amid their darkness,

what endures

within their dust.

See how they draw us
toward the mystery
that will consume
but not destroy,
that will blossom
from the blazing,
that will scorch us
with its joy."

—Jan Richardson

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