Ash Wednesday. When we remember that we from dust we came and from dust we return. It is a day to usher in the season of Lent. I have a powerful memory of my husband, just after we got engaged, walking up to the front of the little stone church on a dark cold Vancouver night and receiving the sign of the cross on his forehead in ash. This was very unlike his reticent, hang-back-until-he’s-thought-about-everything-self. Especially because he did not grow up in church. But in that season, as we were about to start our life together, he was one of the first up there—definitely without my encouragement. I didn’t want to go up. We had to walk back past the coffee shop I worked at on the way home and I didn’t want to explain the ashes…..(lame-o). I asked him why he wanted to do that and all he said was, “I just needed to.”
Entering into this season, traditionally associated with penitence, fasting, almsgiving, it could be thought of as a dark time. But as with all of God’s dark times, there is something happening that we do not always perceive. Lent literally means springtime. It is our church’s springtime. That time when, like the seed fallen to the ground to die, we loosen our grip on our lives, on shaping and making our lives, and we relax into dying. We practice this dying year after year. It is not morose. It is not morbid. It is not an ordeal we start begrudgingly. And that’s because in this very real, very honest time, there is always a spark. There is this little pinprick of joy. Joy not in the celebratory way, but joy in the quiet way of being your most very real self. It is the joy of being bare, but being safe. It is a joy that comes from being surprised to find that when we cannot, we still are. Because out of that dying, that letting go, newness always comes. Winter to spring is such a valuable icon. And even here in the prairies and foothills where winter is spare, bleak, bright and unflinching, spring is long in coming and honestly its not a flourish—here in our home, it is quiet and gradual. We ache with hope and our desire for life to be restored with all its lushness but we have to wait. Its good practice. We wait, we let go, we trust that it will come. And it always does (sometimes in June, but whatevers). And in Lent we let go, we practice holding our hands open before God, maybe in desperation, but mostly in a way that says, ‘here you go….its not much…..but here”.
AND LIKE IN EVERY GOD STORY, we end up not being the main character. Our action is not the main action. Our ability to achieve or even our ability to repent is not the causation of all that follows. Oh friends, it never us. Its always Him and
His appalling strangeness in a love that actually overcomes all the dirt. His action in the dark.
In my own life I struggle with wanting to be somewhere—I struggle with being at home with two incredible and loud kids and a big fat mess on the floors ALL THE TIME. I struggle with all the stuff I feel has to get done for this life to happen. I struggle with the reality that I have to FEED THEM three times a day! Everyday. Forever. I struggle with all the ideals and thoughts and grandiose notions of my life that seem to fizzle with every nighttime wakeup that will threaten my next days’ ability to be brilliant and luminous with my God-given talent…..(yah….sheesh). I struggle with bitterness about it all. (Thank God I just reread a Madeleine L’Engle book where she talked about how she struggled with thoughts like, “I bet Emily Bronte never had to vacuum…” it helped). But THIS is LENT. It is recognizing and practicing our obscurity, our inability. And even if we could make it all happen, I’m not sure that’s the practice that will bring our hearts closest to the reality of life. That we are dust and that He is Big and also very very interested, invested, and active in His dust.
So I will practice my obscurity of homelife. I will give up the things that I turn to to make me forget that I hate cooking! I long to practice the presence of God in the things that are tedious and boring and repetitive. I need Him to show me He is there. Cause if He is not there, if that pinprick of hope is not there, then it is not anywhere. If it is not in the daily ways that I die, the stuff we all have to get done—on the train, in the car, on a fieldtrip, cleaning out under the sink, picking up the dog’s poop (or the toddlers…) then He is out of our grasp. I think of my husband needing to be reminded of his ash-y-ness at the time when most are most hopeful about life. And His life too is full of obscurity and all that is not grandiose ten years, two kids and a job an hour away from home later.
But fortunately, this is a good news story. Lent is an “Evangeline” time. A bringer of Good News. Good News in the mess, in the dust, in the hands opened up to the sky holding our daily lives. It is a surprised by the Joy time, even as we wait for something to rise up out of the dirt.