Ash Wednesday

It is a time of digging deep and bearing down; a time to look at the dust on our arms, the bruises to our vision and pray, however we can, for saving. The cumulative laments and brokenness have their welcome here; bring your ashes and rags–it is a brutal fight for faith.

Today we begin with a renewed collective spirit to join hands across the graves of our lives. We reach out knowing that the suffering has changed us and we carry it, and we look forward to a time, a resurrection, when that suffering will have improved us. We are not too hurting to know that we have caused sorrow ourselves, and this too drives us forward, discontent and restless.

This year, when I read with many other saints Matthew 6, these words make me wonder:

But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

The secrets of the year leading up to this Lenten season are too many, many unspoken. We are dizzy with all the unknowing. It seems cracked and hurting to look at some of those secrets–to see the destruction, the disappointments, and the lonely, stranded places.

Here, in this verse, the secret is holy. The secret place is a refuge, a reward–something where the Unseen is interacting with the seen, the Infinite with the finite. Here, the quiet darkness and solitude–what was looked down on by the religious–is esteemed. The chapter suggests that only when morality and virtue comes out of a secret place, a deeply transformed character, is it the light that shines that Jesus spoke of in the chapter before. Only when the behaviors are unknown and unnoticeable to the disciple herself can the security of the birds of the air, the confidence of the lilies of the field, be hers. So accepting of and accepted by God’s Kingdom is she that she has lost her insecure false self and gained an orientation of abundance rooted in faith. Scarcity and self-protection have been replaced and she is free to be spiritually formed by quiet disciplines and spiritually active in unobserved ways.

Could I find Him in the secret questions, doubts and fears that still haunt us? That rear up when I receive an unexpected phone call, recounting more lies about our story? That make me pause in the middle of some songs, some readings, because I don’t know those things any more and I’m not sure if they are true? Those ashes, the debris of a busted up world, that we each bring with us, from the news, from our marriages, from our hurting churches, to this strange Ash Wednesday? Could we find Him here, in the secrets–in those experiences and tragedies that have been as, if not more, transcendent and impacting on us than anything else?

You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again; from the depths of the earth you will bring me up again. Psalm 71:20

The beginnings of this season are humble. And they are wide. All are invited to bring their mess, to bring the death that has happened, into the sanctuary. Ash Wednesday and Matthew 6 and being a disciple are all about not doing things right, not having things figured out, and still finding ourselves welcomed on a journey of death becoming life. We are best prepared when we have been put in touch with our own depravity and fragility. When all that is seen is not rescue enough for what is unseen.

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Today we take the first step in an awkward dance of self-forgetfulness, which is to say, freedom. A mysterious and secret, yet collective and traditional, meeting. My laments, my failures, my pride, and all the shaky ways I prop up my self-image and facades of safety are accepted and loved and gently, secretly, replaced. In exchange I am freed to take part in a character, a light and a love that calls to the margins and calms my true self that remains. A economy of abundance that I cannot understand with the previous coverings.

Again, I am headed to the steeple of love, the cross, and every time it is a disarming, mysterious journey.

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