Why This Day Speaks to My Soul
I'm writing this as I put a cap on a day that was all too human.
I snapped at some people when I shouldn't have. I got frustrated at my husband. I felt pulled from one direction to another. I wondered if I had enough time in my day. I sighed, rolled my eyes, and pointed fingers.
But, in the midst of such humanness, I experienced some special moments...sacred moments...that I look forward to every year.
And those moments always seems to arrive at just the right time.
Just as they did today.
Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the 4o days of Lent which lead us into Easter Sunday. It is a day that a lot of traditional Protestant denominations (and Catholics) celebrate with special services and reminders of what this season means.
A lot of people see Ash Wednesday as a somber event, and it can certainly be viewed that way. We say prayers, and do readings, and hear meditations on things like "ashes to ashes, dust to dust" and "confronting our mortality," and "sin and transgressions and iniquities." It's enough to make some people stay away from the sanctuary.
For some reason, though, Ash Wednesday is always one of the most joyful of occasions for me.
After the service--which involves a lot of soul-searching, and asking for forgiveness, and then the ultimate symbolism of the night (having a cross made of ash imprinted on your forehead--we are told to depart in silent contemplation.
Even though we leave the sanctuary in silence, my soul is usually wanting to "let it all out" and scream with awareness of what being a Christian is really all about.
For it is in the sobriety and seriousness of the Ash Wednesday rituals that I realize how BIG it is what God has done for me.
God is, yes, about singing and dancing and shouting and smiling.
But He is so much more.
He is the silence you feel when you are confused and don't know who else to turn to.
He is the emptiness you feel when you have learned bad news and feel so all alone.
He is the hurt you feel when you know you have wronged someone else, or made a big mistake, or sinned in a way that certainly could never be forgiven.
He is even the chasm which you feel separates yourself from Him.
God is in the sadness and in the loneliness and the misunderstandings. He's even in the doubt and unbelief.
But (and this is the really good part), Ash Wednesday is a celebration because it reminds us that THAT is exactly what being a human is all about. We ARE made of ashes; we ARE limited in our understanding; we ARE small.
Because when you are small, then you have to turn to something bigger.
(It's sorta like when you're a child. You're frustrated that you can't reach the top shelf in the pantry, or you can't climb that tall tree. What makes you grow and learn and ultimately love childhood, is that you have a parent who is there to help you get something down from the top shelf, or lift you up onto that high branch. Or hug you, envelop you, and let you know that it's going to be okay.)
When we realize our limitations (that we can't do it all on our own), then we see how much God does indeed love us.
When we set our pride aside and admit when we screw up, then we see that God wants to cover us in forgiveness.
And, so, I knelt at the altar and received the ashes. And I took the moment to say a little prayer of thanks. A prayer that certainly doesn't do justice to what the day means.
It went something like this:
"Thank you for loving me so much. Thank you for forgiving me when I mess up. Thank you for forgiving me when I don't even realize that I mess up. Thank you for making me human, and giving me laughter and joy, but also sadness and pain. Thank you for this great gift.
And help me to live each and every moment during the next forty days as a true testament to what you mean to me. Help me to live in peace, and understanding, and contemplation, and joy, and forgiveness, and awareness, and love. And be with me through it all."
It's an amazing, amazing thing, and it's why this day...darkness, and seriousness, and ashes, and all...so speaks to my (very human!) soul.