Every year, I write through the Lenten season beginning with Ash Wednesday, one of the most significant days on the church calendar – and one even closer to my heart than usual this year.
I started the day seeing a post from Rachel Held Evan’s sister, sharing her last public post prior to her death, written on an Ash Wednesday, when she was in her usual state of health and had no idea she was about to leave us. I remember reading it when she wrote it – and mourning her deeply not long after. Her words are still so powerful:
Oh my word.
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
There have been several terribly painful losses since last Ash Wednesday, especially our sweet Lindsey and our dear friend and soccer teammate Jamie. One we had to time to prepare, one was completely stunning; both were totally devastating.
We are dust and to dust we will return.
Yesterday was a beautiful day that felt as though God planned it just for me.
I had not been to church physically since the start of the pandemic, and, while I am so very grateful for online worship, it is not the same as being in our church homes with our people.
Finally returning was just a balm for my soul with our Ash Wednesday service in our chapel (so beautiful).
This Lent, our sermon series will be based on Kate Bowler and Jessica Ritchie’s devotional Good Enough: 40ish Devotionals for a Life of Imperfection. Our dear minister Jonathan began the series so well speaking on the thought that “perfection is impossible but transformation isn’t.” Having listened to him and started the devotionals yesterday, I am so looking forward to this Lenten series and season together. ❤
In addition to the teaching, the choices for the liturgy were so moving to me that I want to share them.
Blessing the Dust
All those days
you felt like dust,
as if all you had to do
was turn your face
toward the wind
and be scattered
to the four corners
or swept away
by the smallest breath
as insubstantial –
Did you not know
what the Holy One
can do with dust?
This is the day
we freely say
we are scorched.
This is the hour
we are marked
by what has made it through the burning.
This is the moment
we ask for the blessing
that lives within
the ancient ashes,
that makes its home
inside the soil of
this sacred earth.
So let us be marked
not for sorrow.
And let us be marked
not for shame.
Let us be marked not for false humility
Or for thinking
we are less
than we are
but for claiming
what God can do
within the dust,
within the dirt,
within the stuff
of which the world is made,
and the stars that blaze
in our bones,
and the galaxies that spiral
inside the smudge
— Jan Richardson
And for the ashes:
Ash Wednesday invites us to come back to earth, letting go of all that pulls us away from full life.
We are invited to wonder at the gift of life: my life, your life, our life with the earth, the shared body of our existence.
These ashes were once trees and shrubs, and places where life was lived to its fullest.
Once they were full of life.
Now they are black and grey. Dry. Lifeless.
Yet mixed with the oil and water of our baptism they make excellent fertilizer: it will help the seeds of the gospel take deeper root in us and bring forth the fruits, the harvest of justice, peace, and generosity.
— Rev. Dawn Hutchings
With the thought of seeds and growth, as I am a plant lady and I believe Ash Wednesday is a perfect day to plant something new, this year – along with several exciting to me 🙂 – little projects this week – I planted a small indoor sunflower kit yesterday, for the people of Ukraine, as we think of them and keep them in our thoughts and in constant prayer.
Finally, in terms of the liturgy, I was just taken with the confession:
You breathed life into dust.
You dreamed me up and brought me into existence.
The least I could do would be to follow you, but even that it is hard.
Forgive me for my distracted ways.
Remind me that in life and in death, I belong to you.
On my best days and on my worst days, I belong to you.
You never leave me.
— Prayer by Sarah Are – sanctifiedart.org
As I said, I felt as though God just meant for this to be the in-person service that finally returned me home. As I always write, music expresses my heart in ways I often can’t and the song selection during the Imposition of Ashes and the Closing Hymn might as well have said “for Miranda” on the bulletin.
During the “Imposition of Ashes,” I was a puddle because the song choice was a single pianist playing and singing Gungor’s “Beautiful Things,” a song I love that is deeply meaningful to me and several of my loves.
In 2014, our close knit friend group very suddenly lost our youngest friend, Erin, who had not yet turned 30. We were stunned and heartbroken, completely taken by grief. At her memorial, our sweet Delaney sang and played “Beautiful Things” and it was perfect.
Needless to say, yesterday, getting back to my church home on such a special and profound day, when that song played for the imposition of ashes, I was just undone.
It felt like a God thing.
Then, to close, the hymn was “Be Thou My Vision,” my favorite hymn, so dear to me that I chose to walk down the aisle to it instead of the wedding march.
Oh my word.
Sometimes the Lord just feels incredibly near – and even more so when I was able to hug my people after so so long. ❤
This year, with school busyness and health always in the balance and just. . . life, I am not “giving up” a long list of things for Lent but rather am participating in the Lenten devotional with my church family as well as a Lenten small group reading Liturgy of the Ordinary that I am so excited about and looking forward to.
I’ll be writing along the way.
However you chose to observe this Lenten season, wishing you a meaningful one as we prepare for Easter.
Finally, here is wonderful performance of “Be Thou My Vision” – combined with “The Irish Blessing” – I just love. ❤
And also Gungor’s “Beautiful Things.” ❤
Be well, everybody. Take care of yourselves and each other.
Grace and Blessings.
P.S. As a fun aside, our daughter Sara made the BEST GF King Cake for our family Mardi Gras celebration – complete with king cake baby. So so good. ❤