Thursday, February 10, 2005

ash wednesday 2005

yesterday morning liam and i walked to the little episcopal church in our neighborhood for their 8:00 a.m. ash wednesday service. we climbed the steps with about eight college students and entered the simple sanctuary. i quickly grabbed a wad of kleenex for my pocket to wipe my tears and sat in the padded chair waiting, ackward and expectant.

i have been to roman catholic services and romanian orthodox ones, but this form of casual high church was new to me. it was a deacon's eucharist and the service was taken from the common book, and a home-made lenten service pamphlet from years gone by. i found it hard to follow along at first, wondering which page we were on and playing catch up. there were about 20 of us there and it was clear everyone knew everyone, but us. the deacon regularly made eye contact with us, not knowing who or why we were there. it was very welcoming and nurtured me to be a newcomer and kind of unknown.

being a staff wife at our church of over 1000 means that strangers know who i am. i am the most helpful person at the grocery store because i assume everyone i meet could possibly be someone who has visited our church and knows who i am - so being anonymous and wondered about was a feeling i hadn't had in a long time.

i found it different to have my face buried in a book during worship. i have a good memory for lyrics, and even in the days of the hymnal i rarely needed to read the words to be able to join in the singing. even before 'off the wall' participation was normal i was worshipping with my face turned upward, or with my eyes closed all together so that i was less distracted by the stage or other people's style of worship. it was strange to see heads bowed and buried, following along with the responsive readings while i was unable to locate the page.

once i got in the flow it wasn't as strange, but it was strange to have a service with no music at all. i revelled in the kneeling, the challenge of the prayers and the readings - especially joel 2:12-13. it has worked it's way deep into my bones:

"Even now," declares the LORD, "return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning. Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love and he relents from sending calamity."

my favorite ghetto monk blogged about ash wednesday yesterday and it's still haunting me:

And let’s say hey, priest, rub it in extra hard today, grind that shit straight into my brain. And then please come to my house and mourn with me—we aren’t made to die alone. And maybe if we do that today, even if just today, just today let some homesickness sink in, let it sit, let it do its thing, let that black ash dig into our brains, make it so we can’t think about anything else, we’ll begin to understand what home means.
i wanted my ashes to remain through the day, helping me remember each time i glanced in the mirror that this year was different. they faded very fast, i never even saw them. i must have wiped my bangs out of my eyes and removed them without even knowing it. but jeremy's words made me hope they seeped in deep - deep into my brain - helping me understand what this is all about.

i also LOVED the idea that i was participating with people all over the world in an act of worship 1000's of years old - i felt like a part of something much larger than myself. it was very powerful, and still is.

i told the deacon on the way out who we were and he invited us to come back anytime. i assured him we would, the other church owns us on sundays, but the rest of the week is our's.

it will be hard to sacrifice the idea being forced to celebrate palm sunday and easter filled with a lot of hype and pomp, but i've been trying to pray i will allow it all to be what it is and find the nutrients within each part i must participate in. part of this lenten period is also preparation for liam and i to participate in a different kind of 40 days.

our church will be doing '40 days of purpose' after easter. this is hard for me. as connie says "anything with the word "driven" in it scares me silly". i know that for right now there is a purpose in us being here - but it's becoming so divergent to who i am and what i believe. it's all i can do not to stand like isaiah or jeremiah in torn rags raging against my perception of how badly this all misses the point. i am trying not to be judgemental, not to be arrogant, not to have pride, but this all breaks my heart. i so long to have simple, so long to have community, so long to seek justice and love mercy and walk humbly with my god - and this just seems so bloated and so excessive to me.

i read on dave's blog yesterday his thoughts on 40 days:

You still see "40 days of purpose" banners hanging up in front of churches as an advertisement to fellow motorists that there is something happening for 40 days that will be about purpose. (I am not sure of the effectiveness of such banners, wouldn't these banners tell the pagan motorists that if they come into the church, they will have to be there for 40 days? Isn't it hard enough to get a non-believer to attend just once?)

he also quotes rick who commented on his blog:

"Well said. Thank you for taking the time to write. Outstanding. I attended the emergent conference in SD early this year and experienced many of the same feelings. In some ways it is sad because we seem so far removed from reality. It felt inauthentic in many ways. Rick Warren was speaking at the confeence "next door" and he asked, "Has anyone heard of 40 days of purpose?" I yelled out, "Yea, for 2,000 years we have called it Lent!"
both of those comments have helped me to put some perspective on all of this. 'to accept the things i cannot change, the courage to change the things i can, and the wisdom to know the difference.'

well, in all of this, the only thing i can truly change is myself, my response and my attitude. i know that my feet have walked along the path that went through 'purpose driven' land to get to where i am now. not that i'm farther ahead or anything, but i do have hope that maybe this might be a catalyst to draw others into a place where they become discontent with imperialistic theology, begin to see the needs of the world and want more than magic, plastic jesus in their spiritual lives.

so as those ashes sink their way into my brain, and i rend my heart, not my clothes - i am realizing that this is about my inward response of homesickness, not my outward displeasure of this temporary home. i need to extend grace in ways i wish it would be extended to me on my journey. god help me.

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