the story room

Monday, April 03, 2006

ashes on our foreheads

Thirty-three days into Lent, I've finally realized that I'm unable to keep the promise I made.

Sparing the details, I'll suffice it to say that I promised to fast from unloving and unkind words: things I wouldn't say about people if I knew they could hear me say them. Every day I've tried to discipline myself, but every day I've gotten it wrong way more than I've gotten it right.

I spent a lot of time this week praying and thinking about why this abstention, seeming so simple when I promised it, has been virtually impossible to keep. And today a memory came to mind that caused me to finally see:

I attended an Ash Wednesday service this year -- the first one I was old enough to understand. And even though I knew to expect it, I was still struck by the ashes. I was captivated during the service as I watched the elders smudge dusty crosses on each person who came forward: the beautiful, the sad, the very old, the complacent, the the newly-born, the wise, the fearful, the hopeful...all of us, at the end, with ashes on our foreheads.

Dust you are, and to dust you will return, the elders said.
Jesus is the resurrection and the life, whispered we.
The smudgy cross.

The ceremony was beautiful and profound, but then it ended. However, it was the time following that that affected me most.

In the candlelight, in the quiet, with Jesus' words on our lips - even with the mark of weakness and death on our heads - we looked courageous, holy, mysteriously strong. And the beauty of the ceremony is that, in a way, it showed us for what we were. But when the service ended, the candles were blown out, and the lights were turned up, the ordinariness of life quickly seeped into our conversations, our gestures, the ways we watched and listened to each other. Disappointingly ordinary (and loud and busy and self-centered and...), but bearing still the dusty crosses, all of us.

It was like a dream. All of us carrying on as usual, but able to see beyond what we usually see: all of us dusty and weak, terribly hopeless...and yet, showered with mercy and love, undeserved and overflowing.

I expected to leave church that night remembering that I was dust, and grateful for God's mercy. And I did. But I also left remembering that everyone else is dust, too. And if the perfect One mercifully and unashamedly loves dust, then I, smudged and ashy too, must do no less.

My problem with Lent this year is that I tried to hold my tongue but had little compassion. I didn't see their ashen crosses. And I seldom remembered my own.

But I haven't laid down my lenten promise; I take it up differently. God knows my willpower and strength is no strength at all, and in need of mercy I am indeed. But I want to love as graciously and freely and gladly as our Father. So I, weak but willing, will pray to love with his unbounded and compassionate love.

And I'll not forget the ashes.


Blogger FDR said...

Great thoughts Erin!

I think the "struggle" is part of the point. I think we learn more sometimes through failure, then we do through success. We learn to depend on God;s grace and love to sustain us, and realize how weak we are.

Not that we give up the struggle, as some rationalize doing. We struggle harder, but more conscious of God's grace, and the need to rely on him.

I personally am having a tough lent, and not as focused as I would like to be. We Orthodox as you probably know, fast pretty stricty, but I have kept the fast w/ my body, and been absent mentally (and perhaps spiritually?) for a number of reasons, cheif of which being finishing up course work.....

May the rest of your fast continue to be fruitful! May God grant us to see His Holy Resurrection!

04 April, 2006 11:18  
Blogger Erin said...

Deac, I'm very grateful for your thoughts.

I think you're right; the struggle doesn't go away, but relying on God's grace gives us strength and the assurance that we're loved, weak as we are. I'm thankful that we need not be ashamed.

Congratulations on the near completion of your course work! That's great news, Deac!

May our Father bless you with his strength and his love as you fast and work and celebrate his life.

05 April, 2006 08:28  
Blogger Matt Cav said...

mike and julie's church "opens" this weekend. you should check it out.

14 April, 2006 11:13  

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