Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Ashes, ashes, we all fall down...

Lent and Advent are both penitential seasons. They are both times of waiting. They are both precursors to great redemptive moments that involve fasting and self examination. Yet, for me, they are completely different in nature.

Advent feels dark and solitary. There is an emptyness to it that has at times frightened me. God can feel so distant during Advent. It is one of the few times in the Christian year that I can imagine being separated from God. I come away shaken and grateful when Epiphany starts. Relieved when I, once again, get glimmers of God.

Lent is totally the opposite for me. Instead of the quiet darkness, there is the blaring light of the desert. It reveals all. It leaves no convenient shadows in which to hide. But strangely, there is no other time of the year when I feel closer to Jesus. In Lent, we do not walk the desert alone, but WITH him. We suffer with him. We fast with him. We examin ourselves and face our sins, with him. He is there, encouraging us, leading us, guiding us. He is a gentle, but insistent presence in the process that looks, on the surface, to be sacrifice... but is, in reality, an incredible gift.

I remember for my first Lent, I gave up diet soda. At the time I was seriously addicted to it. I started Lent with the intention of giving it up as my sacrifice to God. I struggled, though. I wanted to pray to God to help me, but felt it would be somehow inappropriate to ask him to help me with something that is supposed to be a gift to him. At some point, though, it dawned on me that the gift might very well be the sharing of my weakness. That going to God with my need was exactly what was supposed to happen. So I began asking God to help me get through the day without the soda... and made all the way through Lent, and beyond, thanks to God's faithful help.

God is faithful.

What a gift that first Lent was, to realize that God loves me in my weakness. In my sin.

Today I went to Grace church for the imposition of ashes. Before the service began, a man went up to the rail and whispered to the woman lighting the candles. She went back into the vestry and a few moments later the priest, Bob, came out. He walked to the alter and picked up the little silver bowl of ashes and approached the rail where the man was waiting. They exchanged a few whispers, and then Bob administered the ashes on him. He stood up and walked down the center aisle. I caught his glance and noticed that he was crying. I smiled. I prayed for him. I thanked God that Bob absolved him of his sin, even without him having to stay for the service.

Today was the first time I went to a noon mass for Ash Wednesday... so all day afterwards I was wearing the cross on my head.

I was wearing the mark of my belief, my faith, in the world.

It was a deeply humbling thing.

When I walked out of the church, the sun blazed in the sky. Not a shadow at noon....

Beloved, there is no part of us you do not see. Nothing about us you don't know. You know our joys and sorrows. Our fears, our pettiness, our weakness, our sins. You know us, every fiber of our beings. In our unloveliness, you love us. It is not our strength that draws us closer to you, but our frailty. The things that I am most ashamed of are the things that encourage me to seek you all the more diligently. Beloved, how can it be that you love us so faithfully? I am in awe.

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