A Messy Season

I remember the Ash Wednesday when everything went wrong. I was moving a small bowl of ash, and it tipped over. Black palm ash went everywhere! It is so fine that you can’t just sweep it up but rather need to attack with damp cloths and the knowledge that you will not leave the affair unmarked. My hands resembled those of a chimney sweep- molted with soot. My fingers were tipped with perfect half circles of pitch-black embedded under each nail.

To make matters worse, I had lost 90% of the ash we needed for the evening service and had to call my Episcopalian colleague to see if she had any extra. She was kind enough to point out the streaks of ash across my cheek and nose. It was a mess. After all, what else can be expected with a name like Ash Wednesday? But Ash Wednesday is just a messy start to a messy season. 

On the one hand, Lent is an incredible invitation to refocus on God, to take a thoughtful pause from the things that distract us, and to practice the parts of our faith that are the most meaningful. On the other hand, Lent can feel like another set of rules and obligations. It can become one more thing on a long list of things “to do.” After all, the rest of the world doesn’t enter into a “holy pause” just because the pastors start wearing purple stoles on Sunday. People don’t suddenly become more reflective and thoughtful just because we stop using “hallelujahs” in our worship. Violence doesn’t stop because we promise to avoid social media for 40 days. Hunger doesn’t go away because we give up chocolate. I often think that Lent would be easier if we, like Jesus, could spend these 40 days in the wilderness. But Lent has never been an invitation to escape from the world. Rather, it is a call to make this journey through the messiness of the everyday. Perhaps the beauty of Lent is that it reminds us that faith can grow even in messy places and that we can walk with Jesus through the mess. 

Now, as a seasoned pastor, I know to be exceptionally careful when dealing with ash. Today, as I clean up from Ash Wednesday, it will take a few rounds to wash away all the oil and ash and a few trips to put away candles and scrape up wax. I hope each of those steps will be a prayer. A reminder of God’s presence even in the mess our attempts to practice faith sometimes produce. I’ll be praying for each of you as your Lenten journey begins. I pray that your shoes get dirty as you explore new paths. I pray that you are distracted by the beauty of creation surrounding you. I pray that you hear God in unexpected places and find the Word of God guiding you in unforeseen directions. I pray that your heart breaks when you see the suffering of others, and I pray comfort surrounds you in the care of a friend. I pray that you hunger for justice and righteousness and I pray that you fight for peace. I pray that you feel the callouses that grow from hard work and service. I pray that within each day, you find time to rest and breathe. I pray that ash and oil stick around, marking you as Christ’s own. 

If you’re looking for a bit of inspiration, read from the Lenten Devotion and see how others in the church are turning back towards God. You can find copies around the church. You are also invited to join us in Children’s Ministry as we follow a calendar of daily reflections to help us reconnect to God and one another. You can follow along via Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/bmpc_children/) or pick up a paper copy in the education building.