Ashes and Other Smudges
By Nita Gilger
Ash Wednesday--a day that begins our 40-day journey of Lent to declutter and make space for God in a time of introspection and drawing near. It is in these Lenten days that we are encouraged to look at our humanity with truthful eyes and open hearts.
I don't know about you but I feel like I have been "doing" Lent for over a year now. I have had plenty of time for introspection and being honest with myself. I have struggled with the reality of the downside of human nature. We have seen the best and the worst of our frailties as humans. The frontline workers and health care professionals have gone beyond what most of them ever imagined would be necessary or even possible. Think of all the teachers who are going the extra mile and all those in public service positions who make it possible for me to have groceries, roads cleared, or trash picked up. My gratitude is huge for so many brave, loving, dedicated souls. And then, the antithesis of goodness and light has been the tragedy of political leaders and citizens who attempted to overthrow our democracy and create a violent, horrific period that most of us hoped would never, ever happen. We are at a new low with nationalism, white supremacy, greed, power, and authoritarianism. When lies, conspiracy theories and the lack of accountability can damage our country so gravely and are still at work--I worry. It is not a stretch for me to acknowledge my humanity.
The number of deaths and sad, sad loss of life from the pandemic has been and is overwhelming. Just in my orbit, it is all too real. The depletion of in-person love and connectedness has taken such a toll. Isn't it obvious to most that we people need each other? How many elderlies have been feeling so alone during this time and even died alone? The bottom line is that on this Ash Wednesday I have NO trouble understanding the words of imposing ashes--"From dust we come and to dust we must go." Those words are more REAL than ever.
I have no illusions about the fleeting nature and uncertain qualities of life. Even so.... I approach Lent of 2021 with hope. I can do that because I believe in a God of love and hope in all times in all circumstances. Will everyone come out of this pandemic unscathed? Will all the folks who have and are suffering from this historic winter be just fine. No. There are homes lost, lives lost and untold amounts of money lost. Our humanity and all its frailties are on full display. That is all the more reason I/we need Divine Presence in all the moments of our days. We need each other and we need God to see us through.
This morning I will not have ashes smeared on my forehead but I will have a deep awareness of my need of God in every part of my life. In Psalms 51 David calls out for God to create in him a clean heart. And so, as I make space for God and ask for a clean, open, understanding, wise heart--one that listens for change and hope. I always look forward to my yearly Lenten journeys because I find ways to listen and grow in areas that are needed.
Prayer: God of all seasons, make in me a clean heart. Heal this world and all people everywhere with truth and love. Have mercy O Lord. Have mercy. We are marked with sorrow and the ills of our planet and the hardships in our humanity. Save us from ourselves and help us to BE your Presence in a hurting, difficult time. Amen