Wednesday, March 09, 2011

today's smudge

It feels blasphemous to me to write a post today that doesn't at least tip the hat to Ash Wednesday. At the same time, today is much like any other day. Which got me to thinking...

Last night at church we put on the obligatory pancake supper. The turnout was not spectacular, and halfway through my first pancake I was lamenting that there was nothing festive about the occasion. No music, no activity, no decoration. Just pancakes, sausage and syrup. In previous years I have found myself essentially alone tending to the burning of the palms from the year before. It seems to me such a significant part of the evening that I wanted to be sure that more people were part of it this year. So instead of giving a window of time during which people could come and go for pancakes, we set a specific hour. As folks were clearing their plates we gathered for Compline, and then a handful of us gathered outside to burn the palms.

With the odor of that burning clinging to my coat through the night and into this morning, every time I take the dogs out since returning home last night I am reminded of the ashes to come. Ashes have permeated my thoughts and my being.

Except for the preparation I will do for tonight, today is much like any other day. Take dogs out. Slog through the bog that our yard has become (squish, squish), work toward finishing cross stitch project two (the end is near!), do laundry, and so on. But those ashes follow me, superimposed upon my forehead before they are actually there.

Martin Luther's theological nugget comes to mind: simultaneously justified and sinful. The redeeming cross of Christ and the mortal ash of our humanity are one inseparable entity. In some respects this day says it all. To focus solely on sin or salvation misses the point that these two realities coexist. In my striving to live a holy life I still miss the mark. God loves me anyway. The brokenness of my life may come through my own choices or the random tic of the universe. God still redeems it. Like a kindly janitor he embraces me and cleans up after me. I am fortunate. We are all fortunate.

At one point I felt that to go about this day as though it were any other was tantamount to sacrilege, but that feeling has been erased. Erased by a smudge of ash down my forehead, and another across it.  Mortal, forgiven, blessed and redeemed. It all makes sense.


Nancy, Near Philadelphia said...

This is beautifully done.

Carolina Linthead said...

This is beautiful, and something I very much needed to read on this dreary day. Thank you, dear friend!

The Bug said...

Lovely! I missed Ash Wednesday this year because we were traveling (well, I could have gone to an early service, but didn't). It used to be one of my favorite services of the year. But my current church doesn't have a rector so we don't have a service there. I'd have to shop around for one. Next year I think I'll try to be more intentional about working it in.


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