Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Ashes to ashes

I had just finished marking the ash cross on her forehead when someone walked up and told her she had something on her face.  We smiled and she explained that it was Ash Wednesday and the mark was intentional.  "Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return," I added, continuing to share "ashes to go" in the lobby of the student center.

There is vulnerability in being marked in this way.  It makes us stand out, and not in the way we usually seek attention.  We want to be noticed for being special, not for what can be perceived as weakness.  We are marked to distinguish ourselves, the cross as a sign of our faith that is sometimes in opposition to the values of the world in which we live.  We are marked to show repentance and mourning.  In Lent we are confronted with our own mortality as we follow Jesus on the road to his crucifixion once again.  We put down our illusion of invincibility and power and wear a visible sign of our humility.

I love the priestly duty of anointing with oil and looking into the eyes of the hopeful and the humbled.  I am struck by the mixed blessing: "Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return."  The words are haunting, and yet the touch reminds us of our connection to God and to one another.  There is intimacy in the moment, a sense of God's presence.  It provides a holy space where people are freed to share their stories.  One by one, students opened up about their struggles and what they hoped to take up and let go of for Lent.  I was inspired as they moved beyond the typical vices like chocolate and soda to those who were seeking positivity and acceptance, and letting go of negativity and overbearing control.

We wait for hope to be rebirthed as the ground is covered with a cold blanket of snow.  More snow falls like manna from heaven, a gift that we struggle to receive.  It seems like more than we can handle; we are so tired and overwhelmed.  We long for the growth and warmth of spring.  We make weak promises to do more to grow our faith when really we feel like we have nothing left to give.  But the gift that is there for us, if we open ourselves to receiving it, is that God is with us and that we are enough just as we are.  We don't have to work harder for our salvation.  We simply have to open ourselves to accept God's love which is always there for us, a love that is stronger than death.

We are marked, not just with the image of death,  but with the sign of grace.  Our salvation comes through our acceptance of the gift of vulnerability.

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