“Blessed sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit
of the garden,
Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated
And let my cry come unto Thee.”
- “Ash Wednesday” by T.S. Elliot
Ash Wednesday hears all our posturing, all our ambition, all our self-diminishment, all our face-saving, all our shame, all our self-righteousness, all our justifications, then shrugs, taps us on the forehead with a dirty finger a couple of times, and says, “By the way, you’re going to die.” It points to what sometimes feels like our scandalous humanity as a path to love, grace, and reconciliation and gives us Lent to start our journey.
That said, it feels as though last year’s Lenten journey never really ended. That tap on the forehead has been like the drip of a muddy, rusty faucet. All the COVID-19 in the world, if gathered all together, would fit in a Coke can with some room to spare. That’s all it took to bring the world to its knees. Our woundedness seemed to expose every other wound as we reached out or lashed out. We are covered in the ashes of the past year, covered from head to toe.
This Sunday’s Psalm reading (Psalm 25) is written as a humble plea to God and a reminder to God – and therefore the writer – of God’s responsibilities. We’ve been hit over the head with the demand to “plea” so much that Lent comes with dread for many. The fact that this emphasis has sometimes come from those who seem to fashion themselves as free from this need doesn’t help. Instead of being immersed in our humanity’s sacred and profane reality, we’re suffocated with it. Add to it all the weight of isms that some treat as sacred and, for too many, the lie is cast. Those who are targeted for acts of humiliation are further oppressed with the suggestion that they need to be humble, too.
We get so caught up in the plea-ing part that we don’t get to the second part of being able to say, “OK, I get it. I’m human, and you’re God. By the way, God…” Yes, you can do that. It’s all over the bible to meet God with both a plea for mercy and an ask for God to step up. Walter Brueggemann translates the words “steadfast love” in this Psalm as “tenacious solidarity.” Perfect. Come to God humble but ask God to be God, to show God’s self, too. Ask God to do God’s thing.
The ashes have been poured on this Lenten year. We have lost those we’ve loved and had our lives damaged. We have had to face loneliness and uncertainty and not be able to touch one another. Many of our fractures snapped under the weight of it all, and we yelled until our throats were bloody and broke things. And people. We haven’t been able to sing together or share food over our tables or be present with our sick or gather to bury our dead. The ashes have been poured on this Lenten year.
But, pray from under them. Dear God, we’re ready for some of that tenacious solidarity, now. You’re God. We’re not. We’re in a mess that we don’t know how to get out of. We need you to fix this. Tell us how we can help. Amen.
Lent is a season. It ends. Then, something amazing happens. It comes after we do our thing and God does God’s thing.
Pray from under those ashes for an end to this Lenten year.