With Ashen Grace – Ash Wednesday – 03/01/2017

“By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return…” ~Genesis 3:19helios-and-selene-final-8

Today was marked by foreheads, smudged with two lines of ash, a somber reminder of our lowly origins – the beginning of the Lent season.

And this beginning started out for me with lots of grumbling because of the gloomy and snowy weather (damn you snow, I send you back downstairs) and an upset stomach – and I also spent most of the day doing homework and writing pages and pages of curriculum for the job I’m working at this summer.

It didn’t really sink in heavily that today was indeed Ash Wednesday until I got to sit down in my dorm room and just breathe for a couple moments.

My mind was still buzzing and swirling – it took a while to clear away all the terms and phrases and concepts I was writing for the curriculum, to brush away ontological arguments, reformed epistemologies, New Testament feminism, social justice, Paul’s missionary journeysandsomuchmoredeargodpleasehelp – Aha! I knew what to do. I put the kettle on and made some tea and just started to lodge out all the academia gunk. I sat on the couch, set the steaming mug of tea on the tea table in front of me, turned on some This Will Destroy You, and just

Breathed.helios-and-selene-final-13

I have a little Catholic prayer book that I got for a couple of dollars – it’s a lovely and quite ancient thing. I love ruffling my fingers through the pages and smelling the must of old and worn paper. It also happens to have a little section for Lent season – for each day of Lent, it has a Scripture from the Old Testament and a Scripture from the New Testament. The New Testament Scripture was the one that really struck me:

“…Lay not up yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through and steal: for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also…” ~Matthew 6:16

I think a lot of people, including me, like to think of this verse in terms of the future hope that we have, looking at the treasures we have awaiting for us in Heaven. Looking forward to a world of no crying or weeping or sickness or death, to an eternity with God.

But this part struck me: “…for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also…”

I’m a prideful person: and I’m not saying this out of self-pity or self-contempt. It’s my greatest weakness and I know it. And my attachment and love for hard work often drives me to look down upon people and it drives me against the wall because of the expectations I put on myself. I take a lot of joy and pride in the hard work I put into whatever I do.

And what I’ve come to realize recently is that the pride that I take upon myself causes me to look down on people.
“I could’ve done that better than you.”
“I could’ve handled that better.”
“Why would you do that?”
Or so I think.

And this pride causes me to look inward for all my solutions and all my needs – and there’s not much leeway for God to do his thing, because I think I’ve got it all covered on my own.

There’s little room for Grace to work when I don’t think I need it.helios-and-selene-final-15

There’s a song by Will Reagan that I’ve been thinking about for the past month or so. It’s a really simple song that uses the same three chords for nine minutes, and I still keep coming back because it’s profoundly moving and insightful. It’s called Climb, and the lyrics read,

“I know that I can trust you, I lean not on my own understanding. My life is in the hands of the maker of heaven. I know that I can trust you. And I will climb this mountain with my hands wide open, there’s nothing I hold on to. I am so in love with you, there is no one else for me.”

And the first line froze my blood, ice-cold, when I first heard it.

I don’t know if I can trust God.

I’ve recently been in a place where it feels like I’m way better depending on myself than I am on God – and it’s felt like if I give this fragile, broken me to God, he’s going to shatter it and break me irreparably. And so my pride is my treasure. I like to stay safe, warm, cozy, inside the coffin called pride. And why not? It’s so much easier to depend on myself. It’s easier to think I can fix my failures and my mistakes and my flaws. But where does that lead me?

I’ve put my treasure in such a human, frail thing that breaks so easily, that fails me every single time. And sometimes hopelessness cuts through so deep, there’s nothing I’d rather do except sink into blackness and nothingness.

And God reminds me with the two ash lines upon each forehead,

“Yes, you’re frail and weak.” and “Yet, there is Grace.”

ghosts-3

I think we know of our strengths and weaknesses, our passions and our desires, and I think it’s okay to acknowledge them – but we can never let these things be our everything, our support. They are frail things – and treasures are not in these, but in eternity.

One thing I’m trying and learning to take to heart is “Less of me, more of You.”It is not that we think less of ourselves, but we think of ourselves less – all of the worries, and our faults, and our sins begin to melt away once we are less preoccupied with our frailty and more occupied with Grace.

One of Kierkegaard’s famous prayers goes something like this, “Let me feel my nothingness, not that I might despair, but feel your goodness more.”

And knowing our nothingness humbles us – it pushes us to think of God and of others.

So the ashen cross is a reminder of our shortness from God, a reminder of our origin:
We are nothing more than dust granted life by breath of God.
Dust that sparkles in the sunlight shining through a window, then fades away and settles unto tables and bookshelves, content to be nothing more than an afterthought.
Dust to dust, ash to ash.
So shall we return to our Maker.

But he makes the humble lovely, and he loves the humble.helios-and-selene-final-1

I can imagine the footsteps planted in the ground when God walked barefoot on the dirt, into the primordial chaos, and knelt down to form the likeness of himself out of the dust, kissing it gently and imparting Life, gratituitous and beautiful Existence. “Son of Dust! Son of Dust! Arise!” And in tender Love, loving the Man and the Woman – beautiful Images of God, created from the Earth. And the Man

Breathes.

So maybe I don’t know if I can trust God. I don’t.

But I will.

It’s like C. S. Lewis’s novel, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, when Lucy asks Mr. and Mrs. Beaver if Aslan is safe:

““Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.””

Perhaps God isn’t safe. But he’s so good. And there is no one else for me.

“I am so in love with You, there is no one else for me.”

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