A White Lent

1. Now quit your care
And anxious fear and worry;
For schemes are vain
And fretting brings no gain.
To prayer, to prayer!
Bells call and clash and hurry,
In Lent the bells do cry
‘Come buy, come buy,
Come buy with love the love most high!’

2. Lent comes in the spring,
And spring is pied with brightness;
The sweetest flowers,
Keen winds, and sun, and showers,
Their health do bring
To make Lent’s chastened whiteness;
For life to men brings light
And might, and might,
And might to those whose hearts are right.

3. To bow the head
In sackcloth and in ashes,
Or rend the soul,
Such grief is not Lent’s goal;
But to be led
To where God’s glory flashes,
His beauty to come nigh,
To fly, to fly,
To fly where truth and light do lie.

4. For is not this
The fast that I have chosen? –
The prophet spoke –
To shatter every yoke,
Of wickedness
The grievous bands to loosen,
Oppression put to flight,
To fight, to fight,
To fight till every wrong’s set right.

5. For righteousness
And peace will show their faces
To those who feed
The hungry in their need,
And wrongs redress,
Who build the old waste places,
And in the darkness shine.
Divine, divine,
Divine it is when all combine!

6. Then shall your light
Break forth as doth the morning;
Your health shall spring,
The friends you make shall bring
God’s glory bright,
Your way through life adorning
And love shall be the prize.
Arise, arise,
Arise! and make a paradise!

A Lenten carol written by Percy Dearmer. I’m grateful to Thinking Anglicans for drawing my attention to it. It’s lovely because of its quite joyful evocation of the beauty of springtime. And it is powerful in shifting the focus of Lent away from personal piety toward works of justice. I’ve borrowed the text from A Clerk of Oxford

 

Just Mercy: A Homily for Ash Wednesday, 2016

 

“The Lord is full of compassion and mercy, slow to anger and of great kindness” Psalm 51: 9

I’ve been reflecting on mercy these past few days as I’ve made my preparations for Ash Wednesday and Lent. On Thursday evening a week ago, I sat in this nave with more than a hundred people, state senators and reps, as well as legislative staff, clergy, family members, advocates, men and women who had been incarcerated, as we listened to stories and statistics about the broken prison system in our state. Teenagers sentenced to life imprisonment; men who had spent decades in solitary confinement, those eligible for parole who had been denied it again and again, it’s a horrible litany of injustice.

We are a merciless people, a merciless nation. It’s not just that we confine millions to prison with no possibility or hope of restoration to society or their human flourishing; it is that we condemn millions who live among us to lives of hardship and need. We worship success, the almighty dollar, celebrity, and all those who fall short of those impossible ideals are barely noticed. And we seek and revel in the downfall of our celebrities. Continue reading

The oddness of ashes: A Homily for Ash Wednesday, 2015

Yesterday, as I burned last year’s leftover palms from Palm Sunday and ground them into ashes, I reflected on the strangeness of my actions and the strangeness of Ash Wednesday. I thought about ashes.

There was a time in human history and culture when ashes were ubiquitous. Indeed, from the very beginning of human civilization, ashes have been present. Ever since humans discovered how to make fire, our lives, our homes, our culture, has been surrounded by ashes. There are many places in the world where that is still the case, but not in twenty-first century America. Ever since the arrival of electricity and central heating, ashes have increasingly vanished from our ordinary experience. Think about it. How often have you encountered, touched, ashes in the last year? If you have a woodburning fireplace or wood stove, if you use a charcoal grill, if you go camping and build a campfire, you have to deal with ashes. But otherwise, they simply don’t enter into our daily lives and consciousness.

How different that is from what lives must have been like 150 years ago, or still are, in less-developed countries. For nineteenth century American housewives, ashes were probably one of the great enemies, threatening chaos and dirt throughout the house and yard. London used to have the nickname “The Smoke” because of the blanket of soot and ash that covered the city. Ashes were everywhere.

As a priest, in addition to preparing ashes for Ash Wednesday and making the sign of the cross on your forehead in ash, there is one other way in which I encounter and experience ashes. That is when I place the ashes of a deceased person in an urn before placing it in our columbarium, or when I pour someone’s ashes directly into the ground. For me there is no more intimate, no more holy, no more priestly act than that. And it probably explains why I took the time last week to drive down to Chicago to inter the ashes of one of our members in a Chicago cemetery.

As we placed her urn in the ground, I said,

Thou only art immortal, the creator and maker of manknd; and we are mortal, formed of the earth, and unto earth shall we return. For so thou didst ordain when thou created me, saying, “Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”

When I attend to the ashes of a dead person, I am caring for her as Christians have cared for the dead for two thousand years. I am ministering to the body of someone who lived, loved, had all of the emotions and experiences humans do, suffered and struggled, wept and rejoiced. I am preparing her body for the next stage of her journey, a stage that will end when she is raised from the dead, body and soul reunited, and she becomes a new creation, a new being fully alive in the presence of God.

I know, too, how powerful the words, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you will return.” I had a chance conversation with a parishioner yesterday who told me about the first Ash Wednesday service he attended, when he was in boot camp and the Catholic Chaplain, aided by an enlisted assistant, imposed ashes on the recruits. I remember as a layperson, hearing those words and receiving the ashes on my forehead. I remember the power of the words, as well as the awkwardness of that smudge of ash.

I know, too, how powerful and intimate it is to put my thumb on your foreheads, brushing aside your hair, and saying, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return.”

I know the temptation to make Ash Wednesday all about us, about our humanity and mortality, about our sin. There is something powerfully individualistic about it all, something that turns us in on ourselves, to focus on our sin, our venality, our failures, our brokenness; to think about God’s judgment on us. There’s a temptation even to wallow in it, to beat our breasts.

What makes it worse is that our lessons, especially the reading from Isaiah and the gospel, call into question our motives and actions today. “Beware of practicing your piety before others, to be seen by them…” We’re told to fast and pray in private, not to let our left hand know what our right hand is doing, then we come forward, have ashes smeared on our foreheads and go from this place about our daily business. What’s more ostentatious, more obviously pious than to walk around all day with a smudge of ashes on our foreheads? Isn’t that sort of behavior just what Jesus seems to be criticizing here?

Some of us might want to wipe the ashes off of our foreheads as soon as we leave the church; some of us might struggle with our motives for receiving and wearing ashes. How you respond to these issues has a great deal to do with how this day and this rite have affected you in the past, how comfortable you are with odd stares from passers-by, and whether you imagine that wearing an ashen cross is more about you than it is about God.

For all the self-reflection and self-examination of this day and the season of Lent, for all the focus on our sins and shortcomings, however appropriate such things might be, appropriate, and necessary. Ash Wednesday and Lent are not just about us; they are also, and primarily, about God.

I don’t know if you noticed the verses in the psalm we just read that gets at this point and puts everything we do today in proper perspective:

For as the heavens are high above the earth, *
so is his mercy great upon those who fear him.

As far as the east is from the west, *
so far has he removed our sins from us.

As a father cares for his children, *
so does the LORD care for those who fear him.

For he himself knows whereof we are made; *
he remembers that we are but dust.

He himself knows whereof we are made; he remembers we are dust. What comforting, what gracious words! They take us back to the very act of creation. We are told in Genesis 2 that God fashioned us from the dust of the ground. God knows what we are and who we are. God knows us more intimately and more completely than we know ourselves. And what’s most remarkable, the fact that God knows this is evidence of God’s love and care for us. The ashes are a sign to us and to the world of God’s care and love for us and for all human beings.

For it’s not just a smudge of ash on our foreheads. I mark your foreheads with my thumb, using the very same gesture I use when I make the sign of the cross with oil during baptism. Then I say, “You are sealed with the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever.”

You carry that sign of the cross on your forehead every day of your life, even if it is invisible. For one day a year, perhaps only for a few minutes, you have on your forehead a visible sign of the cross, marked in ash. It’s a reminder of our humanity and morality. It’s also a reminder of our origins, in God’s creative love. It’s a reminder to us, of God’s love for us and for the world and an opportunity to share the knowledge of that love with everyone we meet. Thanks be to God!

 

God remembers that we are dust, and that’s Good News! A Sermon for Ash Wednesday

As I was preparing for Ash Wednesday this year, I took the opportunity to reflect on my past observances of the day. That’s one of the wonderful things about the discipline of a blog. It’s something of a diary in which I reflect publicly on the liturgy, lectionary texts, and other matters, as well as posting all of my sermons. So I went back through the past few years since I’ve been at Grace, and even further. As I read, I remembered, not just the more recent Ash Wednesdays but all the way back to the very first service at which I presided as a lay person because the Rector of the parish had taken a new call and the Interim Rector was not yet in place.

Some of those years were memorable because of what was happening in the world around us. In 2003, it was the imminent invasion of Iraq. In 2011, as we knelt to say the litany of penitence during the 6:00 service, the square outside erupted in noise in response to the State Senate’s final passage of Governor Walker’s budget repair bill.

It may be quiet on the square today but still our hearts may be unquiet because of other concerns: the tense situation in the Ukraine, human suffering in South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and elsewhere; and here at home deep, apparently insurmountable political conflict and worsening inequality. We also bring our own more intimate concerns: job loss, illness, loved ones, broken relationships, our doubts and fears. We’re distracted, too, by the fact that we’ve come here from work or school, from a day of errands. And some of us will go from here back to what we were doing, a desk full of work, or homework, or the myriad little details of daily.
In the midst of all of that busy-ness today, we’ve decided to pause for a few minutes, to hear and recite familiar, ancient words, to receive the sign of the cross marked with ash on our forehead, and to hear the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return.”

That’s really what Lent is. Just as this service today marks an interruption in our daily routine, so too does Lent interrupt our daily lives and offers us an opportunity to take stock of ourselves, to remind us of who we are, and most importantly, to remind us of who God is.

Ash Wednesday lays us bare. The shock of a smudge of ash on our forehead and the ominous words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return,” cuts through all of our self-defenses, all of the images of ourselves that we project to the world and to ourselves, bringing us back to the fundamental reality, we are dust and ash.

It’s easy for us to focus on ourselves on Ash Wednesday—ashes, the litany of penitence, the prayers—all of it seems like an invitation to wallow in our sinfulness. Of course, it’s important to take a steely eyed, unemotional look at ourselves; but that’s not the end of the story. The liturgy, the prayers, the readings also remind us of God’s forgiveness, God’s grace, and God’s love.
But at the same time, for all that, Ash Wednesday reminds us of who God is and who we are in light of God. The collect of the day begins, “Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent.” We are God’s beloved children, God’s creatures, even if we’ve been created from the dust of the earth.

The Psalm we just recited emphasizes God’s mercy:

For as the heavens are high above the earth, *
so is his mercy great upon those who fear him.
As far as the east is from the west, *
so far has he removed our sins from us.
As a father cares for his children, *
so does the LORD care for those who fear him.
For he himself knows whereof we are made; *
he remembers that we are but dust.

Just as we are told to remember that we are but dust, so the Psalmist says, God remembers that we are but dust. In our case, the reminder is so that we remember our mortality; that God remembers we are but dust is a sign of God’s care and mercy for us—extended to us because of our nature, our humanity, and our frailty, precisely because we are dust.

Therein lies the power of this day; the power of this smudge of ash on our foreheads. I know that many of us are uncomfortable with going through the rest of the day with ashes on our foreheads. We are uncomfortable with it because we hear Jesus’ words in today’s gospel, “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them…” He seems to be telling us not to make a display of our religious practice and faith. But I would point out first that his warning is not about practicing one’s faith but about doing it in order to be seen by others.

So, if you decide to wipe the ashes off your forehead as you leave the church, that’s OK; there’s nothing wrong with that. But if you decide to go through the rest of the day with those ashes on your forehead, that’s OK, too. You’ll likely forget about them until you get a quizzical look from the cashier while you’re standing in line at the grocery store, or a helpful colleague at work will tell you that you have something on your forehead. Ashes can be a witness, a sign of God’s grace.

For it’s not just a smudge on your forehead. It’s the sign of the cross, marked on your forehead just as when we baptize babies, trace the sign of the cross on their foreheads with the oil of chrism, and say, “You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism, and marked as Christ’s own forever. We bear the sign of God’s powerful love carrying it into the world, offering it to everyone we meet.

The ashen cross is not just a sign of our mortality and need for penitence. It is also a sign of God’s grace and love, a sign of God’s forgiveness. To mark our foreheads with ashes is to remind ourselves and the world of God’s redemptive and gracious love, to remind us that God brings life out death, that God brings life out of dust. God remembers that we are dust and God’s mercy extends even to us.
Thanks be to God!

Gracious Ashes: The Contested Space of Ash Wednesday

I love Ash Wednesday. I love the power of the day’s liturgy. I love the simple gesture of marking the sign of the cross in ash on someone’s forehead while saying, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” I love doing and saying that while looking into the eyes of people I’ve gotten to know over the years I’ve been Rector of Grace; people I’ve been in conflict with, people I’ve grieved with and celebrated with, people I’ve prayed with, and people who have ministered to me. I also love doing and saying that while looking into the faces of people I’ve never seen before. I wonder as I do it what brought them here on this day, for this ritual.

I love the multiple ironies of the day: a gospel reading that warns us about displaying our piety in public even as we do it; a lesson from Joel that calls on priests, the ministers of God, to weep between the vestibule and altar; a call to all of us to the observance of a Holy Lent as we get ready to go about the business of our daily lives with hardly a thought to the ashes on our forehead until someone looks at us quizzically, to go about the business of our daily lives after having been called to repentance and fasting.

And I love that Ash Wednesday has become another contested space in the Episcopal Church. The movement to offer ashes on the street–Ashes to Go–has become a point of conflict as we struggle to adapt our faith and worship to the twenty-first century. Passions run high as a quick check of comments on various posts concerning Ashes to Go on the Episcopal Cafe or other blogs will reveal. Thoughtful people have written passionately and profoundly on both sides of the question whether offering ashes outside of the liturgy of the day is appropriate. They’ve written beautifully about their experiences when offering ashes; they’ve written beautifully and convincingly about the importance of the overall liturgical context. Others have written with grace about their own ambivalence about this new practice.

In a way, the conflict over Ashes to Go mirrors other conflicts in the church. But there’s also something unique about it. I think what sets it apart is the stuff, the sign, itself. Ashes are just a little strange. Ashes are at best a by-product, the remains of a fire. Usually, they are meant to be discarded, dirt, a nuisance. Contrast that with the water of baptism or the bread and wine of the Eucharist. Ashes are dirty, unclean, impure. For many of us in the church they are a reminder and sign of our mortality. Putting them on our forehead (or allowing them to be put on our forehead) is a profoundly transgressive act. It requires us to overcome cultural and personal norms of behavior. It requires us to be open and vulnerable, to be made dirty and impure.

Ashes remind us of our mortality. They remind us of our origins (“Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return”). They also connect us with parts of ourselves that go deeply beneath the veneer of modernity and post-modernity. There are those who say that human beings’ efforts to control fire are linked to the origins of civilization. Ashes remind us of all that and more.

When we touch and are touched by ashes, all that and more threatens to come to the surface: our mortality, our humanity, our brokenness and pain. When we touch and are touched by ashes, we touch and are touched by the power of fire and the power of God. When we touch and are touched by ashes, we make ourselves vulnerable to God’s forgiving and redemptive love.

In the end, even my effort here to make sense of what we officiously call “The Imposition of Ashes” fails, because whatever meaning I make of it is just that, “my meaning” and not someone else’s. Who knows what it might mean to a passer-by who isn’t a Christian, or to someone who has never attended an Ash Wednesday liturgy? Who knows what meaning they might make of it, what emotions it might evoke, or how it might open one up to an encounter with God? We (the clergy, the Church) can’t control how people interpret and experience the liturgy, whether it’s within the four walls of a church or on a busy street corner. We can’t control the movement of the Spirit. She can use ashes to change hearts, but she can as easily change hearts without ashes–or without our help for that matter.

Oh, and if you’re wondering about me, I’ll be on the street corner on Wednesday after services at 7 and 12 noon, offering ashes to passers-by. I’ll be at the same place I am every Sunday morning before services, greeting passers-by and those who enter our doors. If past years are any indication, I’ll put ashes on a few foreheads. I’ll also have plenty of interesting conversations and encounters–but then that happens pretty much every time I walk out the door.

Some other reflections about Ashes to Go:

From Scott Gunn:

The chief complaint about Ashes to Go is that it is cheap, since you don’t have to go to an entire liturgy; one merely receives ashes in a public place. My sense is that in our culture, wearing ashes is costly. This is why Christians love to rationalize wiping them off pronto. Indeed, the Gospel for the day exhorts us to, “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them.”

If wearing ashes on your forehead were viewed as cool (and you’d know this because celebrities and powerful people would wear their ashes on the teevees), then we would want to remove them pronto. But I suspect a smudge on one’s forehead is actually a bit embarrassing to most people. It invites questions, “What is that, and why is it there?” In other words, there is a cost to that ashen cross. So when someone in a train station receives this reminder of their mortality, they are doing it at some cost — as opposed to the socially acceptable way of getting into a station wagon and driving to church where the ashes are quickly removed in the narthex after mass, which is, from the perspective of culture, cheap and easy.

From Jared Cramer:

Most importantly, we need to remember the point of the Ash Wednesday liturgy. The imposition of ashes is important. The Litany of Penitence is important. The celebration of Holy Eucharist, a reminder of the consequences of our sin and of the extravagant grace that covers those sins, yes this is so very important. But the point of Ash Wednesday is to invite people into a Holy Lent. The reason this day exists is for the purpose of one paragraph of the liturgy,

I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word. And, to make a right beginning of repentance, and as a mark of our mortal nature, let us now kneel before the Lord, our maker and redeemer.

And this is the point of “Ashes to Go.” It’s not to get people their ashes—the ashes are only a symbol of something larger. True, some people may think that they are simply getting this checked off their list, but they are mistaken. Because when that ash is smudged, they are invited to something deeper.

Ashes in the Public Square: What do they mean?

There’s a lively debate in Episco-land about the appropriateness of “Ashes to Go” an effort that began several years ago to bring the liturgy of Ash Wednesday into the streets. Here’s a press report from USA Today (last year).

Here are views from several priests. From Scott Gunn:

The world is more full of seekers and wanderers than it is of disciples. Our task, as Christians, is to share the Good News and preach a gospel of hope in a world without much real hope. If we limit ourselves to those who would cross our thresholds first, we will be limited indeed. The imposition of ashes is not a sacrament. One need not be baptized to receive them. And, it seems to me, the act of receiving an ashen cross and a reminder of one’s mortality is as good an invitation to repent as many will ever receive. That gray cross is a powerful sign, even when that’s all there is.

From Susan Brown Snook (she wants to take Easter to the streets, not Ash Wednesday):

But Ash Wednesday?  Surely there are more enlightening ways to touch people with God’s grace.  Leaving aside the facts Everett points out – that this quick “ashing” comes without repentance, and directly countermands what Jesus tells us to do in the Ash Wednesday gospel – that is, don’t wear your piety on your forehead for all to see and congratulate, but practice it quietly – there are other problems.  After all, what is the most immediate experience of getting “ashed”?  It is a reminder of our mortality:  Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

In past years, I’ve written about my own experiences sharing ashes on the sidewalk as well as my ambivalence about doing so.

As I’ve continued to reflect on it as well as on the arguments pro and contra, I’ve come to think about another aspect of the rite, the imposition of ashes, and of carrying around that sign of the cross on one’s forehead all day.

The liturgy itself focuses on our individual piety: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” But immediately upon departing the church, especially if we receive the ashes in the morning or in the middle of the day, that smudge on the forehead becomes a very public display. The gospel of the day cautions us against displaying our piety in public but unless we immediately remove it, the ashes will linger as a reminder to all of what we have done this day. It is a public act and whatever its meaning for us, people who encounter us throughout the day will also attach meaning to it.

This is where it gets interesting, especially in our current American context. With the public face of Christianity so often shaped by people who preach messages of hate, exclusion, and who claim to know what is true and right both for themselves and for the world, people who engage in culture wars over things like “Merry Christmas,” what does it mean to enter the public square with an ashen cross on one’s forehead? That sign of humility and repentance, borne in silence, can offer a powerful counter testimony to the loud and shrill voices of conservative Christianity. What might it convey to passers-by who struggle to make sense of their lives and are struggling to make ends meet? How might the sign of the cross help us bear our public Christian witness with humility, and grace, and repentance?

Even more, while the liturgy of Ash Wednesday, and certainly popular understanding of it, may tend to focus on individual acts of repentance, there is also in the liturgy a powerful communal aspect. The lesson from Joel emphasizes communal repentance: “Call a solemn assembly, gather the people.” My understanding of Ash Wednesday has been re-shaped by my experience observing it in the midst of Wisconsin’s protests two years ago.

There was a time when American civil religion involved public repentance–presidents, governors, legislatures would proclaim a day of prayer and fasting. No longer. If they do it today, they are likely ridiculed. As a society, we have lost the ability to repent. We lack appropriate rituals, even language for it. Public repentance is left to politicians or celebrities who have been caught doing something wrong, and for which they will publicly state, “I take full responsibility.,” and go about their merry way. The sinful acts we commit as a society, as a human race, go un-noticed and unconfessed. The very public act of bringing ashes out on to the street can be a prophetic act–a reminder to all those who pass by as they go about their daily business that there is a higher calling, a higher claim to our allegiance than the gods of money and power. It can be a call to our cities and our nation to repent of the sin and violence that occur in our midst and that we commit.

I think there may be no better message that we could proclaim in the public square, in 2013, than an invitation to a holy Lent, a call to repentance, and a reminder that “we are dust and to dust we shall return.”

 

 

Contentious rituals, contentious ashes–seeking meaning in a secular world

I’ve been reflecting on Ash Wednesday–my own experience of it as well as its place in American culture the past couple of days. I’ve especially been intrigued by the growing popularity of “ashes to go” as well as the pushback. This movement has generated considerable publicity, both in traditional media and onlne and it has given rise to some interesting thinking about Ash Wednesday’s significance in post-christian culture.

I’ll dust off my former “religious studies scholar hat” for a moment or two. The power and meaning of rituals are much debated, both within and between religious communities, and among scholars of religion. In the west, in contemporary American Christianity, there are relatively few rituals that use real matter as powerfully and dramatically as Ash Wednesday. Think about it. The water of baptism leaves no physical mark after one has dried off; the bread and wine of the Eucharist are often reduced to faint imitations of real bread and wine. Even burials are rarely accompanied by the sight of real dirt (astroturf covers the open grave and if dirt is needed to sprinkle while saying “ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” the funeral director provides a small vial of sand).

Ashes are real. Of course one can buy them from religious supply houses but most of us like to go the whole nine yards, burning last year’s palms and grinding them up. Ashes are messy. I have yet to figure out how not to leave a trail of them throughout the church and as often as not, while distributing them, a few will fall on the nose or cheek of the people.

We rarely touch ashes or find them on our bodies, except on Ash Wednesday, or if we are in the midst of cleaning out a fireplace. Ashes are dirt; they are evidence of disorder and destruction and have no place in our daily life. Certainly they do not belong on our foreheads, or in a church. But there they are.

There is a deep anti-ritualism in Protestant Christianity that has extended itself to mainstream American culture. It’s only a ritual, we say; or that’s empty ritual. At the same time, there is a deep yearning for meaning, for authenticity, and for connection. Ash Wednesday offers all of those things. What is more real, more authentic than the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return”? What deeper connection is made between the one who says those words and distributes the ashes, and the one who receives them? It may be a momentary connection, no more lasting than the touch of a thumb on a forehead and a shared glance, but in that moment there is connection, between priest and people, in an individual (their past, present, and future) and with an individual and their God, Creator and Redeemer.

Nothing about Ash Wednesday has surprised me more than the demographics at our services. There was a higher percentage of students and young adults at all of our services on Wednesday than there are on Sunday mornings. Clearly, the ritual of Ash Wednesday resonates.

There is a great deal of discussion about young adults and religion. Are they losing their religion? Are they disconnected and flying solo? How can we reach out and share the good news of Jesus Christ in this post-Christian world where people are seeking meaning and connection?

I think an answer might be here, in Ash Wednesday. To offer rituals, worship that are deeply authentic and connecting, not just with God, with other humans, or with our own emotions. To offer rituals that are authentic and connect us with the real–like ashes–that connect us with our humanity, our deepest selves, and show us that at our deepest selves is the desire and love of God, such rituals, whether performed in a a traditional space like a church, on a streetcorner or a subway stop, such rituals can offer hope, direction and grace, for broken people in a broken world.

More importantly, we can’t know what effect our actions might have on those we touch, we cannot know how God might be at work, whether those actions take place at an altar rail, or at a bus stop. Those effects are in God’s hands, in God’s grace, something for which I am endlessly grateful to the God I love and serve.