Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Star Dust, Ashes, We're All Decomposing: Ash Wednesday, Again

Today is Ash Wednesday, the day in the Liturgical year that reminds us that we are dust, and all too soon, we'll return to dust. You can call yourself a creature made out of the ruins of stars (true!), but you're dust all the same. This service used to depress me, but these days, I find it one of the more important ones of the church year.

We're not here for very long, and most of us have already used up at least half the time we have in this life. We just do not have time for most of the self-defeating and self-destructive behaviors in which we engage.

As a child, I hated Ash Wednesday. Christmas, of course, was my favorite holiday; I wanted fun and festivity. I hated Ash Wednesday and Lent, the somber mood, the focus on our sinfulness. Yuck.

So, I'm amused to discover that I rather like Ash Wednesday as an adult. Perhaps it's taken me this many years to admit (and in some cases, just to see) all the ways in which I've sinned and fallen short of my full potential. Maybe it's because I've come across more modern thinking about sin. My favorite definition of sin comes from the Gail Godwin novel, Father Melancholy's Daughter (which would make great Lenten reading--it's set during Holy Week): "A falling short from your totality. . . . Choosing to live in ways you know interfere with the harmony of that totality" (p. 198).

Here's a quote from Henri Nouwen to start your day. It's from A Cry for Mercy: "Our temptation is to be so impressed by our sins and failings and so overwhelmed by our lack of generosity that we get stuck in a paralyzing guilt. It is the guilt that says 'I am too sinful to deserve God's mercy.' It is the guilt that leads to introspection instead of directing our eyes to God. It is the guilt that has become an idol and therefore a form of pride. Lent is the time to break down this idol and to direct our attention to our loving Lord. The question is: 'Are we like Judas, who was so overcome by his sin that he could not believe in God's mercy any longer and hanged himself, or are we like Peter who returned to his Lord with repentance and cried bitterly for his sins?' The season of Lent, during which winter and spring struggle with each other for dominance, helps us in a special way to cry out for God's mercy."

Here is a prayer for Ash Wednesday: "Oh God, keep us mindful of all the behaviors that move us away from you. Help us to choose our Lenten disciplines wisely. Help us to remember that we are here for such a short time, that all to soon we shall return to our dusty destinies. Keep us focused on the Kingdom work that you need us to do."

No comments: