Ash Wednesday Reflections: Easter amidst Lent... Life amidst Death...
Power amidst and from Weakness
“Lowly and meek, yet all-powerful”
I woke up with this phrase from the Celtic Book of Prayer rolling around in my head. As I did my morning yoga and got ready for the day I just kept unintentionally thinking “lowly and meek, yet all-powerful”… “lowly and meek, yet all-powerful”… “lowly and meek, yet all-powerful”. It seemed like such a random single phrase from the prayer to have stuck in my head and I just kept turning it over in my mind and wondering why I had this particular phrase stuck in my head. What was God trying to show me?
“Lowly and meek, yet all-powerful”
Good amidst and from Fallen Creation
Later in the day I was reading a little bit from a book called Of Water and The Spirit: A Liturgical Study of Baptism by Alexander Schmemann (very interesting book) and this section stuck out to me: “He is the Savior of the world, not from the world. And he saves it by making us again that which we are. But if this is so, then the essential spiritual act - from which indeed stems the whole of "spirituality" - does not consist in identifying the world with evil... It consists not simply in discerning the "good" from the "evil", but precisely in discerning the essential goodness of all that exists and acts, however broken and subdued to evil is its existence... We live, to be sure, in a wicked world. There seems to be no limit to its wickedness, to suffering and cruelty, confusion and lie, sin and crime, injustice and tyranny. Despair and disgust seem to need no justification; they almost appear to be the marks of wisdom and moral decency. And yet, it is indeed the first fruit in us of restored kingship that we not only can, but spiritually speaking must, while in this wicked world, rejoice in its essential goodness and make this joy, this gratitude, this knowledge of creation's goodness the very foundation of our own life; that behind all deviations, all "brokenness," all evil we can detect the essential nature and vocation of man and of all that exists and that was given to man as his kingdom. Man misuses his vocation, and in this horrible misuse he mutilates himself and the world; but his vocation itself is good. In his dealings with the world, nature and other men, man misuses his power; but his power itself is good. The misuse of his creativity in art, in science, in the whole of life leads him to dark and demonic dead ends; but his creativity itself, his need for beauty and knowledge, for meaning and fulfillment, is good. He satisfies his spiritual thirst and hunger with poison and lies, but the thirst and hunger themselves are good. He worships idols, but his need to worship is good. He gives wrong names to things and misinterprets reality, but his gift for naming and understanding is good. His very passions, which ultimately destroy him and life itself, are but deviated, misused and misdirected gifts of power. And thus, mutilated and deformed, bleeding and enslaved, blind and deaf, man remains the abdicated king of creation, still the object of God's infinite love and respect. And to see this, to detect this, to rejoice in this while weeping about the fall, to render thanks for this, is indeed the essential act of genuine Christian spirituality, of the "new life" in us.”
Joy amidst and from Repentance
Then tonight I went to Marek and Elaine’s prayer room for a sort of Ash Wednesday service – a time to remember that we are ashes and to ashes we will return – a time to welcome each other into the season of Lent. We started the evening listening to Psalm 51 sung in Latin (beautiful) and taking time to quietly read and contemplate this powerful Psalm.
1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. 3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. 4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge. 5 Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. 6 Surely you desire truth in the inner parts [a] ; you teach [b] me wisdom in the inmost place. 7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. 8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. 9 Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity. 10 Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. 11 Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. 13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will turn back to you. 14 Save me from bloodguilt, O God, the God who saves me, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness. 15 O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. 16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. 17 The sacrifices of God are [c] a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Beauty amidst and from Ashes
Later in the evening I was speaking with a friend and she mentioned the phrase “Beauty from ashes” and how it had resonated with her lately. It struck me again – beauty from ashes. Ash Wednesday is a day of remembering that we are ashes and to ashes we will return. But, for me today it was also a day to remember that ashes is not where God leaves us – He breathes His life into us. He creates beauty from ashes. He takes us, ashes though we are, and makes something beautiful.
Life and Resurrection amidst and from Death
I have been wrestling lately with how to fully enter into and practice Lent this year. I have come up with a few ideas and been lead to a few things (like a focus on learning to pray) but there has been one thing that up until today I have really struggled with and been unsure about. You see I want to enter into Lent in its traditional sense with a focus on repentance and discipline and sacrifice – these things are at the heart of Lent and I figure if I want to experience Lent then I need to experience and enter into repentance and sacrifice. But, I also have strongly felt God calling me to a “diet of delight”, calling me to play, to learn to rejoice, to allow God’s rest and joy to reign in my life. I’ve felt like I have experienced a lot of “death” (figuratively speaking) in the past year and a lot of sacrifice (particularly with my diet because of some of the health struggles I’ve been having). So, I struggled with wanting to enter into the death of Lent but also desiring life and delight and joy and feeling in many ways like I’ve had enough death lately and need a rhythm of resurrection instead. But, today I realized that this doesn’t need to be an either or type situation – I can practice the repentance, discipline, humility, sacrifice, and death of Lent while also learning to practice and enter into the delight, goodness, joy, power and strength of Easter. One leads to the other… Repentance leads to joy… ashes can lead to beauty… death leads to resurrection… Lent leads to Easter… But, it doesn’t end there… “Blessing is at the end of the road. And that which is at the end of the road influences everything that takes place along the road. The end shapes the means. As Catherine of Siena said, ‘All the way to heaven is heaven.’ A joyful end requires a joyful means. Bless the Lord.” (Eugene Peterson). Joy isn’t just the end of repentance it is all along the road of repentance as well, it is amidst repentance. Life isn’t just the end of death, it is amidst death. Easter isn’t just the end of Lent it is amidst Lent.
“Lowly and meek YET all-powerful.” Christ is BOTH lowly and meek AND all-powerful. Through the kingship which He restores us to through His Spirit we also enter into this dichotomy. We also become lowly and meek, yet at the same time all-powerful. We also experience life amidst our death. We also become beautiful though we are but ashes.
So, I begin this season of Lent humbled, repentant, and willing to sacrifice. But, I also enter this season of Lent rejoicing, celebrating, joyful, and even playfully expectant of the life and resurrection that has come, is coming and is to come.
Rejoicing in the journey - Beth Stedman