Ash Wednesday

It is Ash Wednesday, and my bones are aching with a flu.

One resource I was reading says, Ash Wednesday emphasizes a dual encounter: we confront our own mortality and confess our sin before God within the community of faith. The form and content of the service focus on the dual themes of sin and death in the light of God’s redeeming love in Jesus Christ.

It may be melodramatic, but it’s also very satisfying to be sick on this day for contemplation and reflection on mortality.

My reading for the day was Luke 18:9-14

[Jesus] told his next story to some who were complacently pleased with themselves over their moral performance and looked down their noses at the common people: “Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax man. The Pharisee posed and prayed like this: ‘Oh, God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, crooks, adulterers, or, heaven forbid, like this tax man. I fast twice a week and tithe on all my income.’ “Meanwhile the tax man, slumped in the shadows, his face in his hands, not daring to look up, said, ‘God, give mercy. Forgive me, a sinner.’” Jesus commented, “This tax man, not the other, went home made right with God. If you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up flat on your face, but if you’re content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself.”

I must confess that there have been times I have come into God’s presence to congratulate myself for being righteous. I wouldn’t say that I’ve thanked God for being better than others, but I’ve certainly expected blessings in return for my good behaviour including simply showing up to pray. Lately, however, I’ve been living in painful awareness of my shortcomings and flaws, personally and spiritually. It’s a growing place, and I am grateful to be where I am, not delusionally self-satisfied and self-oblivious like the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable. I relate much more to the dejected image of a person who is crushed by their need for mercy, yet who still painfully asks God for grace.

Let’s be real though: it is wearying to feel needy and to face one’s own brokenness honestly. Some people do it better than others – they bring themselves to ask for help, to open up, and to wait in the tension of ongoing healing. I think I’m learning that, but I’m also quick to slap a smile on my face and focus on helping others or having a good time. I assume there will always be more time and further opportunities to dig up what is painful and pick out the grit.

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return, wrote Solomon.

Lent is a great season to sit with what is painful and pick out the grit.

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