Today is Ash Wednesday.
It’s been a year since I have posted anything. I’ve started a new article many times, but it’s been a year. And by that I mean, a hell of a year. Over the past year I’ve experienced some significant life changes, some very joyous and some very difficult, but I need not elaborate here. I have an excellent therapist for that.
I’m feeling tired, and not just because I woke up at 5am for our early morning ash service, or because it’s a major fast day and my body is angry with me; but sometimes tiredness is spiritual. It’s in the heart. And sometimes it causes our best intentioned efforts to wither, our hopes and goals to fall.
Last night we gathered to burning palms. The palms were saved from last year’s Palm Sunday. The last time we saw them, they were green. They were springy and vibrant. And we lifted them as tokens of hope for triumph and victory over our earthly troubles. But now they are withered and brown. After the fire consumed them, they were reduced to dust, and now they are ashes. Today we mark ourselves with these ashes as a sign of our mortality, reminding us that just as those palm branches withered, so too do we wither like grass. Just as those leafy emblems of hope and triumph were reduced to dust and ashes, so too do our mortal hopes and earthly triumphs are transitory. And so, as we burn the palms, as we impose the ashes, we marry these two themes together: the hope of Palm Sunday and the humility of Ash Wednesday. We embrace humility, and we accept that the hope we need is beyond our sphere of mortal influence or understanding.
There are times in life when we might feel perfectly at peace, only to have the curtain fall and in an instant we are confronted with a harsh reality. Contentment crumbles as grief looms. Security and belonging disappear as uncertainty and loss cast their shadows. However it happens, the difficult days are the ones that remind us how transitory life can be. What once seemed simple is now mired in agonizing complexity.
But Lent is an opportunity for a new beginning. As it says in our prayer book, this is a season where the primary action of the Church throughout history has been to welcome new members into the life of Christ and to welcome old members back who have been absent. No matter who you are, or where you are in your journey, the work of Lent is to prepare to be reconciled and brought into unity. The discipline of Lent, penitence, is to hope for new life springing up, for the mending of things impossibly broken.
This past year I initiated a divorce, I went to Burning Man, I was ordained to the priesthood, and I made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. I saw incredible sights, I met luminous people, I felt feelings, and learned lessons–blessings I never would have seen or encountered or benefited from if I had not been willing to embrace my own brokenness and need for hope.
And so I preach to myself, with tears of gratitude, with dust and ashes, to keep going, to accept forgiveness, to uncover tranquility, and to bless the process of becoming. I may be dust, but God can do incredible things with dust.