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A Holy Lent

February 18, 2015

I write all the time.  I sometimes share my writing with others.  I’ve noticed that I am writing less and less on this blog, so for Lent, I’m committing to posting more of my writing, sermons, classes, poetry — whatever I am creating and thinking.  If I’m not careful, I will turn my Lenten disciplines into New Year’s Resolutions (which I despise!).  I’m not being nearly so concrete about my intentions.  Rather, I am working to live into the call of living a holy Lent:  self-examination, repentance, prayer, fasting, self-denial, meditating on God’s Word.  So in the next 40 days, I will be posting things which relate to this calling as I once again ask God to make in me a new and contrite heart as I walk through these days.

Today is Ash Wednesday.  As I have gone through the day, images and moments have struck me, and these are snapshots that linger.

4:35am – I’m wide awake, a sure sign for me to begin my daily rhythm.  I say the Daily Office and ponder the psalms, how nothing seems off limits within them.  My throat is sore; I’m trying hard to fend off the inevitable, in which my voice deepens and then gradually gives up all together.  I’ve been using Zicam, feeling hopeful.  I let the dogs out, consider going back to bed, but instead head toward the laundry to start the dryer.  Ashes.  Dust.  I think on these things as I move through my morning routine.

6:20am – I drop off my youngest son at my middle son’s apartment so that I can make it to the church in time for the 7am Imposition of Ashes.  There’s something about Ash Wednesday and starting the day with this service which is important to me.  Maybe it’s knowing that I will be doing the Imposition of Ashes 5 times today.  And maybe knowing that I will be a part of those services, along with Beth (the rector here), I need to kneel and confess and receive a reminder of my humanity, my frailty, my tendency to wander from God and from others.  Not that I ever forgot my faults, because I don’t.  Perhaps it is important because it reminds me of God’s love, of why it matters, what I do every day, what we are all called to do.  Still, it’s hard to drive away from those two boys, who with their older brother hold my heart in ways no others do.  My call so often takes a toll on them.  Of this, perhaps most of all, I need to kneel before God and confess.

8:13am – I have a message to call a parishioner who is reaching out with a need.  I call, and we talk — what an honor to be let inside the life of another person in such intimate ways.  No matter what it is — sickness, brokenness, anxiety, joy, conviction of shortcomings, a new insight — every time, usually throughout the day, I’m grounded in this sharing we have in the community of faith.

10:29am – 40 people, mostly little children from our Parent’s Day Out program, are gathered in the Chapel to receive ashes.  There’s a lovely woman from Birmingham who is in town for business, and she has a conflict at the other service times.  She smiles and seems to understand the simple service we have, with the occasional crying child, and the little boy fearful of the black which I offer to smear across his little forehead.  I remind the kids that they already have an invisible cross on their foreheads, from their baptism.  This cross just helps remind them how much God loves them and all of the creation, from birth to death and beyond.  Their earnest faces shine, even as they are mostly bewildered by what we are doing.  Yet somehow, I think some of them get it, probably more than me.

12:15pm – I’m saying the words, over and over – Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return – as I move along from one end of the altar rail to the other.  Most of the faces are familiar, with a generous sprinkling of new folks scattered into the mix.  I try to be neutral and compassionate, because I want to be God’s conduit and not be in the way.  I look at the faces, feel love for them, see in their eyes their own journey this Lent.  I come to someone I hold dear, a spiritual amma who has been and continues to be a mentor and friend.  I see her, begin to say the words, Remember you are dust,…and tears well up in my eyes as I remember the many years she said those words to me when our positions were switched for so long.  My voice breaks as I finish the words…and to dust you shall return.  She sees the tears, hears the catch in my words.  I move on to the next person, reigning in my emotions, thankful for the little moments that keep me so aware of my humanity.

1:35pm – I meet a man who needs some help with a bus ticket.  He tells me the story of needing a job, praying about it, and running into someone who offers him a position at a local restaurant.  He says he struggles with old habits and tries not to fall in with the old crowd.  He only needs a $10 dollar ticket, and he is so joyful when I get online and buy it for him.  He reminds me to believe more in possibilities that seem unlikely.  And to be joyful in all things.

2:10pm – I talk with a coworker about the office and how to organize things.  He shares a story about his dad, who died when my friend was in his 20’s.  I think of the things his dad never got to see, and of the things my mom never saw, like me in this office, a priest in God’s church.

4:00pm – A beautiful young mom is expecting baby#2.  We hug, and she is beaming.  I rejoice with her!

4:35pm – After the Imposition of Ashes to a wonderful group of women with comfortable lives filled with rich blessings, the leader of the group reminds us to pray especially for Coptic Christians and the persecution they are facing in some places.  I’m once again surprised by her keen awareness of the world as well as the depth of her faith in the power of prayer.  She continually amazes me by her deep faith and generous spirit, which she uses to make so many people’s lives better.

5:45pm – I grab a bowl of soup and a salad from our wonderful Cafe Kairos and take it to my office to eat in silence and center myself before the 7pm service.  Just as I sit down, a knock at the door and a parishioner with a tray, asking if I wouldn’t mind company to eat.  Sure, I say, coming around my desk and raising the leaf in the table so we can set our trays on it.  My weariness is replaced with a lively conversation about her life and recent transitions, and I’m glad she came up.

7:30pm – The last service of the day is more than half over.  I’m celebrating, and I’m behind the altar about to sing the sursum corda.  Joe gives me a note, I open my mouth, a some strange sound creaks out.  I’ve been fighting a sore throat, and my voice has finally given out.  I squeak through the next two lines, then switch to speaking.  Afterward, the good people at the service joke and offer warm words of acceptance and understanding.  I’m reminded of my own limits, heart and soul and tonight, most definitely voice.

10:18 – Finally home, my son and the dogs are fed and settling in for the night.  My voice is now completely gone as I whisper good night to my son, who so often waits for me at home while I listen to other people talk about their kids, while I lead and talk and pray and do things that leave him too often alone.  I think of people who I did not see today, people from the church or friends or loved ones, some near and some far away.  I wonder how they are, if they realize it’s Ash Wednesday, if they know how I love them, that they make my life better, even when I don’t see them nearly as much as I would have it.  I finish these words and am reminded again of how blessed I am to serve God, to be loved and to love.

From → On Faith

  1. Wonderful post, and good to see you writing again!

  2. Such love and grace. YOU are a blessing. Keep writing as I’ve missed you!

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