Tag Archives: ash wednesday

Ash Wednesday : Where Are You?

09_ash_crossOn this day, I will walk up to the altar of my home church. With ashes from last year’s triumphant palm branches and anointing oil pressed from olives, my pastor will trace a cross on my forehead and remind me of the dust from whence I came, and of the dust to which I will return. I will bow my head and close my eyes as the lights dim, aware and somber, reminded of the Garden and of creation and of the ache to return. I will remember, a muscle memory from my ancient past, the God-breathed Spirit in my soul awakening to the longing, the question: Where are you?

* * *

The breeze is cool, welcoming, perfect. It is Eden in the evening, the spoken-into-existence sun setting over the created horizon. My skin tingles raw; leaves and soil and the very breeze that whispered in the Garden is rough, prickling and shivering over me. I am naked, afraid, the nakedness nothing new, but the fear all at once awakened and alive, famished.

He calls for me: Where are you? 

God the Creator, knower of all things, asks a question for the first time in human history.

Where are you?

I am hidden in the Garden, a place of perfection created with beauty and completion in mind, a home to walk side-by-side with God-in-Three, the Holy of Holies Trinity, arms swinging wide to take it all in, the wonder and magnificence of an infinite God poured out into finite things, reaching trees and wild animals and expansive skies.

I am cowering beneath fig leaves, thorns in my bared side, as I hear His continuous call. I want to respond as I once was, eyes fixed only on the identity God gave me when He formed me, when He first breathed eternity into me.

But everything has changed.

Where are you? 

As if He doesn’t know, as if He truly cannot see me His image-bearer anymore, stained as I am with disobedience and disbelief in His goodness. I show myself, heavy as lead, admit my fear and my bareness, my reason for hiding.

His next words are more questions, more invitations to explain myself.

Who told me I was naked?

Did I eat from the tree?

What have I done?

Only God knows the depth of my betrayal, the permanence of my mistrust, the legacy of it all born in my belly and inherited by the cursed earth itself.

I am nothing more than clay breathed alive by Life and Love Himself, my Spirit-soul still eternal, trapped within a crumbling-back-to-dust body.

* * *

This evening I, descended from disobedience and exile from Eden, will sit in my pew with an ashen cross rubbed against my skin, and I will listen for the question stirring among the Garden breeze.

Where are you?

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The Dust in These Bones

Today is a sacred, symbolic day for the church. As a proclaimer of Jesus (with a long history of irrational sentimentalism), I place ALOTTA importance on this day, Ash Wednesday. The emotional youth group kid still trapped inside me absolutely LUVS this somber kick-off to Lent, the heavy meaning behind burnt palm branches and anointing oil, the grounding reminder of the dust in our bones.

“For dust you are and to dust you will return.”
(Gen. 3:19)

Those words still me every time.

But today, and maybe for this season of Lent, I want to land on a different piece of Scripture calling us back to our beginning.

“Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”
(Gen. 2:7)

I think of those first passages in Genesis, the pure poetry behind a creative and involved God. I think of the light and the earth and the sea spinning into existence, the glory of God stamped onto every atom of this created universe. I think of the magnitude of God, and the smallness of our galaxy, our sun, our world, in all of it. I think of our outright insignificance, and the pure beauty of every tiny thing in our tiny lives.

I think of God, an infinite and uncontainable God, and his illogical interest in us, in me, right here and right now.

I think of how the story goes, how God saw this world and declared it good, from the sun and the moon and the stars to the mountains and sycamore trees and untamed oceans. How God filled this world with created life, wild, beautiful, bizarre animals to run and swim and fly. How God took his time and fashioned in his way every big and little thing that catches my eye and breath.

And then, after all of that perfect detail poured out straight from God, he crouched down in that created dirt, the smallest grains of sand in this grand and glorious earth, and thought, “Just one more thing before I’m done.”

I think of how God, creator, artist, poet, scooped some of that dirt into his infinite hands and formed eyes, hands, legs, a brain, a heart, arms, knee caps, eyelashes, ears, hips, lungs, bones, marrow.

And then, miracle of miracles because creation was not yet complete, God leaned in close and breathed his infinite breath into this dust cavity, awakening every handmade inch.

Today, as I close my eyes and remember the dust from which I came, I will press into the God who wakes it up in me.

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Ashes and Oil

“For dust you are, and to dust you will return.” -Genesis 3.19

I would like to be able to say I wholeheartedly believe God makes it easy to find Him. That it isn’t even so much a finding of Him as it is simply a seeing Him. But if actions > words, then that wouldn’t be very honest of me to say at all.

Don’t get me wrong; my heart and my brain and my experience point to a God who is very near. I trust and I know and I write about a God who is very good. But all of those things don’t seem to hold much weight when I let myself get so caught up and so dragged down by the ugliness and brokenness tunneling through our world.

I read the terrible headlines, and then I read the terrifying articles, and then I read the ignorant comments, and I say under my breath, “My God,” because I can’t find or see Him very clearly at all, and maybe a whisper wrenched from all of these collective broken hearts will invoke His interference.

(Let’s all agree to be better Christians by not reading the comments, I guess?)

And I am reminded of another heart-heavy plea:

“Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?”
(My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?)

*     *     *

I’ve been struggling for the past several weeks how to approach Lent this year, how to dig deeper without losing sight of the world around me. Lent has been my favorite season of faith for many years now (super weird, I know), and I usually have lots of thoughts on it, on how to make it more meaningful for myself. It centers me, it connects me with believers around me and believers who have gone before me. It draws me in and all the way back to the beginning of the Christian church whose remembrance of what happened was so pivotal, so profound.

I love the ancient rituals, the fasting and the prayer, the timeless texts and the scent of ashes and oil. I love the singular focus, just on Jesus, for a little while anyway, the Church hungry for and aware of His life story.

It’s a season of paradox. A season of deprivation in order to steep in God’s divine extravagance. A time of personal sacrifice in order to reorient ourselves on Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice that ushers in life abundant. A season of particular awareness of the God who is always present anyway, calling our attention to the beauty and to the broken, that we may experience Him in life, in death, in every crack and crevice in between.

It is a season when we wear our ashes on our foreheads, our hearts on our sleeves, willing more so to not just acknowledge, but to grieve our own depravity, our own desperate need for a Savior.

*     *     *

I’m still not sure, even as I write this, even as the sun comes up on Ash Wednesday, how I am going to approach Lent this year. I haven’t been certain of any words, any generous insights to this season that means so much, that speaks so deeply.

Even as I write this, I wonder if this year I need to run out of the words. Maybe — and I’m realizing this in REAL TIME — maybe I need to listen more this season. Maybe this season of Lent is asking for my silence.

Maybe I won’t talk so much. I won’t pray so loudly, but sit in silence and let Him speak. Maybe I will hear Him more clearly, hear your hearts more closely.

This season, I will press my ear to the dusty road and listen for the footsteps of Jesus as He turns toward Jerusalem. This year, I will listen to His heart and His words as He cries out for this earth, blood tears staining His robes. I will close my eyes and tilt my head and listen. This year, maybe I will hear the heartbeat of God as Jesus moves closer and closer to the cross, to His surrender, to our redemption.

If you press your cheek against His chest, you can listen with me.

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