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Ashes

Theme VIII: Lent Incarnate

Author: Andrea Lingle

Ash Wednesday is forty days (less Sundays) before the feast day of Easter. The forty days symbolize the Hebrew people’s forty years of wandering in the wilderness, the forty days of rain in during Noah’s flood, and Jesus’s forty-day fast in the desert.

Ashes represent a reduction, a simplification, an equivocation of all things. Garden rose and wayside weed both burn to calcium carbonate—the stuff of egg shells and pearls. Oak and primrose, dandelion and sycamore, lie down to be reborn as a chalky white limestone or collect as stalagmites in the underground chambers of the water table.

We come, willing to be reduced, to a period of lament. We walk through the flame of Divine examination knowing that we will burn gloriously. We will rise to the sky, glowing as embers, and fall again, cool, and quiet. It is from this place of ashes that we begin our sitting. Our lament. Our rest.

Darkness.

Ashes.

Sorrow.

Lamentation.

These are uncomfortable. These are awkward. These are necessary.

Lent is the period of time when the liturgical Christian community embraces the necessary discomfort and awkwardness of repentance and lamentation. Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent and, in many Christian traditions, it is a day when supplicants come to have the sign of the cross drawn, in ash, on their foreheads.

A sign, writ in darkness and remains, that this year, I will journey, once more, toward destruction.

I will walk the road to Jerusalem which I know will end in sorrow. I will walk the road to my soul which I know will end in repentance. I will ponder and examine and return and find, in the silence of the ashes, that that which I have been journeying toward has been in me, with me, around me the whole time.

In the words of Peter Rollins:

As Christ dies on the Cross we read of the tombs breaking open and the dead coming to life. Why? Because it is here that the death-dealing structure of Idolatry and Unbelief is broken apart and a new mode of life erupts. A life in which the source of all is no longer approached as some being whom we ought to love, but as a mystery we participate in through the very act of love itself*.

I will journey, willing to be uncomfortable and awkward, because it is necessary.

*Peter Rollins, The Idolatry of God: breaking our addiction to certainty and satisfaction (New York, NY: Howard Books, 2012), 145–6.

A Lenten Blessing:

May the blessing of lament bring you rest, and may you find strength in knowing that God inhabits your sorrow.

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