I saw the wildfires, Lord.
The flames licking at houses, scorching trees.
The stuff of homes and families and memories…
I am undone.
The raging power of the flames scared me,
their passion was so all-consuming.
but unlike the fires,
You are not capricious.
You are not destructive.
I searched my heart…
In the haze of my busy-ness, do I sense You?
Do I know the heat of Your love?
Do I feel Your unbridled power?
Do I feel at all?
What is burning? What is glowing?
What inspiration burns inside me?
In the past,
I have longed, burned for You…
I am tired and distracted,
Brittle with anger
instead of supple with your Grace.
Rekindle my joy
Rebuild my heart
Remind me of the transforming power
of Your love
again and again.
One day can be a lot like another… But today, at the end of the day, I changed one role for the other.
I stepped out of my chaplain role and donned my pastor’s robe and stole, and assisted in leading the Ash Wednesday service with my pastor and friend, Jill. We shared soup and rolls, and Scripture from the Psalms. It was an evening of prayers, of miscues, of wrong notes and hard topics. It was a night with the subtext, “Welcome to a service where we are all going to remember that we are mortal.”
Ash Wednesday is that time of solemn reflection, of admitting that this life we worry about every day is so… Temporary. It is a day of pastoral irony that we, who are supposed to inspire, encourage and remind others of the joys of the eternal, have the most visible stain of mortality on our hands. My thumb and forefinger had black in every crease, every wrinkle, every hangnail.
It was especially poignant for me in that today is the anniversary of my dad’s death in February 10, 2000.
Today as I read Scripture and left a cross on the forehead of my patients and their families, I remembered him, and my mom, and my sibs. I remembered the waiting, the wondering, the sad relief. It isn’t something I think about every day. But I did today…
Remember you are formed from the dust of the earth…
And to the dust, you will return.
Ash Wednesday is just the beginning of the journey through Lent. It is a wandering and reflecting time. There is time for introspection and repentance, but life does not stay in the morose and mortal. For these next 40 days, we are taking an intentional journey towards the Cross and an empty Tomb. Death does not stay defeated!
But for tonight… We reflect. We consider. We remember….
Several years ago in my first year of chaplaincy I learned that there’s a little technique involved in imposing ashes. (Maybe you went to “ashes imposing class” in seminary — we didn’t have that class.)
I also learned that the ashes grind into my skin. Every wrinkle and crevice in my fingers are stained black.
I learned to keep cotton balls with oil in my pocket to moisten my thumb (or glove). And to have plenty of hand sanitizer after I imposed the ashes.
I learned that the simple words, You are dust, and to the dust you shall return.
are powerful, poignant, and loaded with meaning when you are standing in the middle of an emergency room, or outside a doctor’s office, in a hospital room, or with hospice patients.
I learned that giving ashes is a tender, sacred, personal moment, one where, as pastors, priests, or chaplains, we are touching the human and finite with the promise of hope, Grace, and eternal life.
I learned that by giving ashes I gain so much more. My mortality is there, in front of me, for all the world to see.