Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Ash Wednesday - an Invitation to Lent

Ashes on the forehead represent mortality, grief, and loss - and thus a new way of thinking and living, and hope.

     Our culture has a way of handling grief and loss. We pile on kind expressions of sympathy - and then we move on, and hope to grieving one moves on also. Lingering grief - or worse, an ongoing sense of loss - is unbearable. We want our sympathy to "work," to make the other person feel better. We want to feel better when we suffer loss, and soon.

     The Bible, oddly, seems to seek out grief, stirs it up, invites it, even expects it. The vast majority of the Bible's prayers are laments, expressions of sorrow, rage, grief. We are even invited not merely to mourn our own losses and those close to us, but the pains of strangers in other places, and even to let our hearts be broken by whatever breaks the heart of God. It's as if the spiritual entails some daily sorrow.
    Fascinating thing about tears: they cleanse us inside, something bottled up is released; in the Bible, tears are an open channel into the heart of God. Perhaps it is only as we grieve that we open ourselves to true joy. Suffering reduces us to who we really are, the fake, surfacey stuff molts away, and we sympathize with others; our minds change. Suffering is inevitable - and God is there.
    In a letter to Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton wrote that life with God "isn't a matter of getting a bulldog grip on faith and not letting the devil pry us loose from it. No, it is a matter of letting go rather than keeping hold. I am coming to think that God loves and helps best those who are so beat and have so much nothing when they come to die that it is almost as if they had persevered in nothing but had gradually lost everything, piece by piece, until there was nothing left but God... It is a question of his hanging on to us, by the hair of the head, that is from on top and beyond, where we cannot see or reach. What man can see the top of his own head?" 

    Prayer from the Daily Office: "Lord, I have spent much of my life running from pain and losses, medicating my pain and quickly moving on to the next project. I ask for grace to embrace all of life - the joys and the sorrows, the births and the deaths, the old and the new."

     Our Ash Wednesday services are at 11am and 7pm.
     Sunday's sermon, An Invitation to Lent (on the Transfiguration, Matthew 17), is on YouTube.