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.