Tag Archiv: Ash Wednesday

Invitation to grace


photo by Denna, compliments of morguefile.com

Photo by Denna, compliments of morguefile.com. ¬†Poem excerpts in text from “The New Colossus,” by Emma Lazarus (a poem engraved on a plaque at the Statue of Liberty).


I almost can’t wait until Lent. That colossal invitation to grace. That crazy idea that grace isn’t reserved for the deserving. It’s on special for anybody who walks in the door. There’s even a table on the sidewalk if you’re just passing by. If grace is dispensed by a vending machine, on Ash Wednesday someone jams open the slot. Instead of coming out one piece at a time, the candies shoot out piling up all over the floor.

I’m not saying it’s easy. Moving with intention in places that threaten and challenge us is scary. Attempting mad prison escapes, brick by brick with only a sharpened spoon for a tool, can seem lengthy. But Lent says we don’t have to stay stuck. We’re not condemned to remain as we are. Whether it feels like it or not, change, transformation and growth are possible.

Not effortless, but possible. Some disciplines don’t last past Thursday without requiring a reboot. Some get forgotten three or four times a week. Or day. But the candy machine slot stays jammed open. Lent isn’t for the faint of heart. But it is for the failures. Because Lent says that fresh beginnings and redemption are available in the midst of all the places we fail, and thus shall it ever be. So there.

We don’t believe it most of the time. Why should we? To believe that would be to embrace the terrifying reality of grace. And who knows what that could lead to. Who knows what would happen if we all grabbed on to this thing we didn’t earn and let it hold us undeserving in its arms. Take all our mess of failed intentions falling short, forever falling short. Listen to the voice of love sing softly until we stop screaming that it isn’t working and really listen.

This week, Ash Wednesday will stand there like the Statue of Liberty pleading:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,*

And this is our invitation. Not to get it right. Just to come. Ash Wednesday, the big, beautiful statue with open arms (from France no less). No lines. No cost of admission.

So there’s a long flight of stairs. So we don’t always make it 354 stairs to the top. Even at twenty or thirty, it’s worth the climb. Half way is better than having stayed at the bottom watching and wondering what the view might have been.

Lent is not for good people or people who want to do good things. Lent is for tired, grumpy, hopeless, frustrated people with good intentions they can’t stick to. And for people who aren’t sure they see the point. Ash Wednesday, our invisible statue of liberty, who comes every year. Who beckons us to a different land of the free and home of the brave.

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door*

Ash Wednesday says we don’t know what is possible. But grace is raining and it’s promising to be torrential. We can take off our shoes. Take off our jackets. It’s okay to get wet. We can stand feeling awkward until we remember what children know. That we’re meant to dance in the rain. That everybody belongs there. And the rules are there are no rules about grace. You just show up with as much of you as you can and stay until you’re laughing out loud. Because grace is ridiculous and it’s for us.





Ash Wednesday’s Transportation

Ash Wednesday, by Carl Spitzweg, 1855-1860.

Ash Wednesday, by Carl Spitzweg, 1855-1860.

I have embarked upon a death by degrees. If I could work in an unheated laundry in the early morning hours with my hands raw from the scrubbing, or make cheese to sell with the milk I had squeezed by hand from the last drips of every neighbour’s cow for five miles, if I was doing something along those lines for my children’s education, I imagine a sense of pride would accompany my labours. Instead, I am nailed to a car for a very extended Lent.

If points A, B, and C, lie on a crooked line, we live at point B, with three of the children requiring taxi service to C, and the child of a thousand activities requiring taxi service to A. By week’s end, the chilly laundress and the determined cheese maker both have something in their hands that proves what they have accomplished. By the sweat of their brow they have obtained their children’s education. While it is true that my children could not attend their places of study without transportation, at the end of every single week, there is nothing to prove that I have done anything. My back aches a bit, my right leg is stiff, my toes at times numb, but only the laundress can decry her chapped hands. It’s not quite the same to say you’re achy because you went from B to C to B to A to B too many times this week.

An early Ash Wednesday is catching me up short. The cold of mid-February amplifies the monotony of duties and begs the question of their meaning. I am hesitant to hope for Lent’s promise. Afraid to believe that Easter will dawn in so short a time. Soon the weather station will have to invent a synonym for polar vortex to keep things interesting. Many days are cloudy, but not all. I went out the other day to almost brilliant sunshine. I turned my face to the sun as I walked and pulled the scarf away from my skin so that light could touch more of me.

Perhaps Lent in deep winter is good. Perhaps the effort it takes to believe on cloudy days that the light will come back builds something for which we have no proof. On Ash Wednesday we bow as a claim that what we bow to is bigger than our moods, disappointments, or even our dreams. Faith needn’t be felt at all times. Ash Wednesday accepts it wrestled to the ground, hogtied, and held by a large rock drug from the backyard. Bags of cat litter would also suffice. Light was and is and will be whether we see it or not. A thousand clouds of dull grey today, but tomorrow the sun will tear once again with ferocious glory through the skies.

We may need to jerry rig this year’s Easter dresses with battery powered sections of an electric blanket, but we’ve got forty days to sort it out. Ashes to remind us from whence we came. Ashes to pull us silently up, out of our forgetting and into a grand awareness of Divine transportation. Tirelessly ferrying us from B to A to B to C and back to B again while we learn our lessons largely oblivious to the driver.

Unheeding of thank you’s neglect, Ash Wednesday comes. With Love’s arms open wide, we are invited to march toward Easter’s hope.