It's Ash Wednesday. The threshold of the season of Lent.
There are a lot of things we think about when we think of Christians and Lent. We think about giving up things.... like chocolate, or beer, or Facebook. As though spending 40 days in the vice-free wilderness is going to be a reset button for our souls. That God gave us Lent to teach us self-control.
When in actuality, Lent is just the church calendar's embodiment of a cycle that our bodies are already living. It is the ancient church's reflection of a pattern we all know God set spinning in us. In our very bones. A cycle of dying and rising. Of burning and squelching. Of shedding old and taking on new. Before the dawn, comes the nighttime, where we look ourselves in the mirror and take account of our days. Our souls revealed to us. Our beauty and our betrayal. We take a good look, no matter how uncomfortable.
And we look and we look.
Because we know without the looking we will never see God.
In the liturgical church, the palms from Palm Sunday are often saved away in some back corner of the sanctuary. They sit drying for the year, waiting and watching life happen. Joy, celebration and sorrow. They silently- almost secretly- bear witness to a whole cycle of life before them. Then, nearly a year after they are used for celebration, they are burned. They become dust. Someone carefully adds oil and mixes them in a bowl. And on Ash Wednesday, our foreheads are marked; marked with a reminder of celebrations past, of life gone by, of triumphs and failures. All turned to the thing from which we come.... the thing to which we all return. We are marked with our own life and death. With our community's life and death. With the life and death of God's created order.
This Ash Wednesday, you're invited to enter that circle. At Storyline, we didn't gather with Palms last year (we didn't gather at all... it's been almost a year since COVID descended upon us...)so instead of burning palms, let's burn with something else....with purpose. What do you have that's been proverbially or literally drying up in the corner of your house or life? What has borne witness to your triumphs and your tears? What can you use to symbolize that literal life cycle? A piece of fridge art that has hung in the kitchen all year? The journal page with your 2020 New Year's Resolutions? A chunk of wood scribbled on with Sharpee pen? Pick something. And on Ash Wednesday.... (with all the necessary safety precautions...)
LET. IT. BURN.
Let it have served its purpose. Let God's divine cycle of dying take hold. As it burns, breathe. Meditate on this threshold space of mirrors and reflection. Meditate on those triumphs and tears. As a family, share what feelings are rising in this moment.
Then, when the fire has cooled, using just the ash (NOT WATER!) with maybe some oil from your kitchen, mark one another with the sign of the cross. Tell one another that you are dust. You are earth. You are made of divine mystery and you are an intricate part of this cycle of creation and to that very creation... to that very earth.... to that very dust... you shall return. In the absence of ash or safe fire and ash collection practices, a candle and some dirt work just fine.
Welcome to Lent, beloveds. Let's look into the mirror together.