It seems like a good idea to acknowledge our vulnerability as human beings. We are so breakable. And I mean that physically, spiritually, and morally. To be marked with a gray ash sign of the cross harkens back to days when grieving people covered their heads in ashes. If you think about it, that is such a powerful metaphor of grief. On Ash Wednesday, we grieve our losses, and sometimes we grieve our mistakes.
Grieving our losses comes from a place of love. We grieve the loss of what we have loved, and sometimes of the things we have taken for granted. Sometimes it is a person we have lost and sometimes it is our own health. We are mortal and finite, and to have a beginning means to have an end. Sometimes it brings us sorrow and grief, but it is all wrapped up and intertwined with the amazing gift of life and our capacity to love, to know, and to be known.
The traditional words, when receiving the mark of the cross on our foreheads, have been “Remember that you come from ashes and to ashes you shall return.” It is a sobering thought and we grieve our losses.
But sometimes we grieve our mistakes, and that’s a whole different thing. Some of our limitations don’t have to do with our mortality, but with our humanity. We are creatures, after all, who have impulses of self-protection that sometimes short-circuit our generosity, our honesty, our trust, our openness. Suddenly we find ourselves “bending” the truth, keeping the bigger piece of pie (literally or metaphorically), slamming shut the gates of our hearts, being snippy (or worse) with our loved ones, and rude to people we don’t know or don’t notice. This is something to grieve!
Grieving our mistakes comes from a place of love, if we let it. Grieving our mistakes means we want something different. We want something better. And so it means turning toward the grace and compassion of God which is buried somewhere deep within us. It means letting go of what we have done, letting go of our guilt and our grief and letting God love, forgive and welcome us in to a fuller embrace.
Let Lent be about love this year. What is the newness you are longing for? What would it take to begin practicing that in your life?
God continually calls us to re-think (re-pent) and re-turn (turn again) to God. In turning again toward the God of Love, we turn away from our brokenness (or we pass through it) and journey on toward the new life of Easter, the hope of beginning again, the blossoming of a new season. And that’s what Ash Wednesday can begin. It’s the first step, and only the first step, on a fruitful journey to greater wholeness.
Wanna walk toward Easter together?
You may also be interested in my Ash Wednesday blog post at Patheos from two years ago: I am topsoil and to topsoil I shall return.