On Ash Wednesday, the girls and I slipped into the darkened sanctuary of a church not our own. We shed our coats in a swath of wintry late-afternoon light, and spotted a few familiar faces as we waited for the service to begin. I texted Y a photo of the girls bending their heads together over a Bible plucked wonderingly from the back of a pew.
Over the years, we’ve adopted the tradition of visiting other churches on days when our own fledgling church plant has no service, heading north on Good Friday, further north for Lessons and Carols at the close of the year, and now — for the first time — southwest for Ash Wednesday. But because this circuit has grown gradually, and fixed its points out of relationships on both inter-church and personal levels, it has never felt fragmented. There is, instead, something rooted and beautiful in joining our friends in various places for worship once a year.
The forms and liturgies of this particular service fell on a heart that has been yearning as a sailor to the sea’s call toward this season of preparation for weeks. Ah, friends, it is Lent! A sober time, absolutely, but one that cannot be truthfully observed without the deep awareness of the golden gain at its end: a renewed jubilation; a re-commemoration of earth-shivering, paradigm-splintering death-into-life. All my spirit is on tiptoe to see — to hear — yea, verily, to taste and sing the rejoicing reality that the Lord is risen.
But all this must begin in the middle of the week, in the middle of an ordinary life, perhaps like that of a mother keeping watch over two children on a long wooden bench, leaning over to whisper to them when it is time to rise and where to walk.
For us it begins with the cruciform smear of ashes on our foreheads, tiny black particles falling onto our noses, leading us to peer at each other with newly confounded sight… as if we had forgotten that from the day our forms were knitted into being we were marked for death.
And then — most impossible wonder of all — it begins with another rising, another walk, this time to receive into ourselves the bread-and-wine remembrance that Another’s death is weaving a new pattern into us more deeply than the Gordian knot of our former doom.
From the service until bedtime, I was jolted every time I looked at my daughters or passed by a mirror. The stark mark stared back at me like the irrefutable fact that it was.
The girls, on the other hand, expressed surprise that the ashes didn’t completely retain their shape. The flakes fell, you see. A movement toward home, a cool breath of outside wind, a final brief immersion in water, and they could not stay on.
This, too, I realize now: irrefutable.
Breathtaking Pieces on Beauty from Ashes
A Shot in the Dark, by Matthew Cyr
“It takes more theology than you’d think to scatter someone by firearm.”
homesick and Home., by Lanier Ivester
“But it also meant roses—where roses ought not to be. It’s meant weddings in my backyard; Christmas feasts crowded with people I love. . . I believe in those roses, friends, because I’ve seen them with my own eyes. And in them I’ve had a flashing glimpse at things too good not to be true.”
Lent: Preparing Our Hearts for the Resurrection, by Amanda Gerber
This is a guide to Lent, written by a dear friend for her home church, which helps me every year to center more wisely on the purpose and practices of the season. “He knows we are prone to wander; He knows we so easily forget. . . . Lent isn’t for despairing, but for entering into greater joy.”
Anselm Society — The Centric Genius (video)
(This could hardly be called work, but I was honored to take part by reading the script.)
On Our Tea Table
– A sprouted spelt lemon cake slice, recipe modified to fit my dietary restrictions and quartered to fit into a darling and diminutive glass pie pan, served with a scoop of plain Greek yogurt and berries.
– Strawberry hibiscus tea, which is the sweet and tart scent of summer in a cup.