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Tuesday, March 5, 2019
As my wife walked out the door, she wish me a Happy Mardi Gras (or something like that), which reminded me that it was “Fat Tuesday,” which means that Ash Wednesday is next.
In my churches, Lent was not something we generally spent a lot of time with, and occasionally I might have some things in relation to the season, but the primary focus in my churches has always been on Holy Week itself. However, as I thought about it being the time for Ash Wednesday, I thought it worthy of a blog.
I do know that the ashes used for Ash Wednesday are from the burning of the palm leaves from the previous year’s Palm Sunday. Multiple times in the Bible, ashes are used in the ceremonies of grief, placed on the head (probably more of them than the usual spot found on the foreheads of Ash Wednesday observers) as a symbol of grief and anguish. Ashes always derive from something that was once something else, but through the extreme experience of fire, that something is reduced to the remnants we call ashes.
I think in life, we experience a lot of fiery moments, moments that test our mettle, moments that push us to the extreme, moments that can push us to the limit, make us grow discouraged, sometimes even to the point of despair. And sometimes, in the aftermath, things that we once held dear have been reduced to ashes.
Divorce is one of those kind of experiences, when afterwards the vows from the wedding day and all the plans for a future life together are consumed with the process of the separation and end up as ashes, tatters at our feet. But it is certainly not the only such experience. Lots of losses, lots of disappointments, lots of disastrous experiences can create the same thing.
When some piece of life as you know it has been reduced to ashes, what can you do?
I was reading an article by Terry Helwig in an old Guideposts this morning, and thought it had some pretty good insights I would like to use to launch this blog with today. The comment was that Terry had learned that the Chinese character for the word “crisis” contains within it the symbol for “opportunity.” I don’t know whether that is true or not, but the illustration provided is kind of cool. The writer mentions an article some years ago about an airport forced to close because of snow, with all the usual reactions from those stuck there. Except that one lady decided to use it as an opportunity to teach “kindergarten,” and gathered the children around and led a fun little class, much to the delight of both parents and children. I like this transformational notion. The ashes of cancelled trips was reformed into that opportunity that became something new and special.
In Laura Story’s book When God Doesn’t Fix It, there is a similar notion. In referring to shattered hopes, she says:
“In that moment, we think life as we know it is over.
The truth is, life, as we’ve yet to know it, has just begun.”
Can you relate to that? I remember a good friend sharing with me that after her divorce had all settled, she began rediscovering things that she had once enjoyed, and was able to embrace them into a new future. I know that many of the things I have experienced and had opportunity to do became options post-divorce. I have seen the same thing happen in churches, when a church I am working in faces a crisis moment, and some dreams are dashed, but then new ones are born that were not possibilities in the previous environment.
So, as we come to Ash Wednesday this year, consider the portions of your life that have turned to ashes, sent you into mourning and dashed your hopes. And while it may not be exactly what those who observe Ash Wednesday might intend, let me invite you to do something with the day.
Let illustrate the idea this way: over the course of my life, I have had many times I lived in homes with fireplaces or pellet stoves. Many a time the task that has fallen to me has been to get out the little shovel and scoop up the ashes, carry them out side and cast them away. Are there ashes in your life left over from some shattering experience, maybe divorce, maybe something else? How about using this Ash Wednesday to get out your spiritual and emotional shovel, scoop up some of those ashes and let them go, so that you have a clean and fresh start for the opportunities that are just around the corner? You might be surprised how nice it feels to have cleaned out those dusty, dirty corners of your life, so that something new can live there instead. I even suggest you find some tangible way to symbolize what is going on internally for you—burn a photo, throw away an old letter, give away something that represents the things you need to let go of to make room for the next phase. And you can do this even if, like me, you won’t be putting ashes on your forehead this Ash Wednesday.