It seems that the cosmos have aligned to grant us the juxtaposition of Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, a season of penance, with an almost cartoonish holiday of smacking lips, chocolate decadence and saccharine love that is Valentine’s Day. In the realm of social media, which do you choose: hearts or ashes?
This Lenten season starting on Valentine’s Day feels somehow incisively appropriate for the hour in which we find ourselves. The #metoo outcry is the story of amorous gestures devoid of love that are instead an articulation of power, which leaves the ones preyed upon a shade less whole. There is dust on the hearts of those who have been abused. The ongoing chronicling of black and brown bodies gunned down too soon adds to tales of unrequited love for those left behind. Mothers, sisters, wives, fathers, brothers, husbands, no one is protected from the possibility of suddenly losing their beloved. Loved ones turned to ashes. With this change in season comes a call to find new language, new expressions that can re-member wounds. We need all kinds of language and gestures to enflesh pain, sorrow, mourning, rapture, joy, love.
Hearts and ashes are signifiers of life and death. Orbiting together, they express a kind of mourning and loss that is not sanitized. The heart is unrecognizable without the blood that constitutes its function. A heart rendered physically is always wet, viscous, red by oxygenated blood cells, alive and moving. It necessarily extends out through arteries, veins, fluid; it can’t not be connected. The heart is always in contact with something, someone. Otherwise it is completely devoid of life. Ashes have a life of their own, particularly when brought into contact with wind, water, or soil. They are free and light, quick to spread at the slightest breeze or drop of water. Containing them is difficult at best. Where hearts pump vitality and physical life, ashes provide a grainy, pixelated rendering of spiritual life. Hearts run and flow. Ashes settle and permeate.
Blood on our hands. Ashes in our mouth.
Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke? Isaiah 58.6
“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.” Matt 6.1
Today is the beginning of a spiritual journey. The goal is not to give something up, per se. Yet, if we follow this journey in earnest, it will kill us. Something must die for life to emerge. That is the strange way of the Triune God, the way of the cross. To walk through this world with baptized bodies means to slough off layers that are no longer living or life-giving. Lent is the ultimate exfoliation. Yet even that doesn’t quite communicate in truth because the Spirit penetrates to the marrow.
The wounds of our society weep for recognition, and the church has equivocated its responsibility to the oppressed and the persecuted. Yet in this season, when we receive the ashes on our forehead, each of us has an opportunity to turn around, repent, and listen. Beginning at ground level, the dust of my own being, the soil to which you yourself will return, Lent is about self-examination. Each of us are located somewhere, among others in a particular place. We are here by some means either of our own choosing or through relational circumstances. There is soil beneath our feet that others have traversed, perhaps even been expelled from, or prohibited from walking altogether. Who we are is also intricately connected to where we are. Hearts moving over dust and ashes.
This Lent I will be asking myself, when and how am I complicit? When have I been silent? Which promises have I broken? How have I allowed my words to crumble into nothing? Blood on my hands, ashes in my mouth. Kyrie eleison; Christe eleison.