The Holy Awkward with Pastor Ryan

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Smudged Ashes

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Consumer-inspired valentine exchanges, pancake suppers, and unfolding Lenten plans, disrupted by the very notion of mortality we are confronted with on Ash Wednesday.

In an unusual fashion for Ash Wednesday this year, my Lent journey started early yesterday morning, attending a mass service at the Catholic school where my mom works.  Surrounded by kids giggling in the back rows anticipating the visual of receiving a smudge of ash on their foreheads to wear the rest of the school day, I found myself drawn to the innocence of such a time.  What elementary or middle school child is attending morning mass thinking about their own mortality?  Their fragile, flawed, and “fearfully-wonderfully made” selves.  But in a way, the oblivious nature of it haunts me unbeknownst of what would come…

In the midst of freshly imposed ashes during evening services, only to be wiped off within hours, faded ashes were strewn and scattered in an unprompted manner.  Permanent smudges.      

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School has now succumbed to a cultural reality that has seemed to develop ever since I can remember seeing a student climbing out of an open window at Columbine High School in 1999 on my television.  A high school, now equated with another senseless massacre.  Fears surrounding our own death can usher in lasting stains and yet my own worry is that we don’t often strive to cast out a fear inherent in our personal desires for power, security, and stability. Instruments of fear are readily available to us, and when fear becomes a weapon of our own agency, the creative spirit of God becomes the victim. No longer do we look toward death through the lens of a love that casts out all fears, but we acknowledge it in the same breath with which we brush off the ash from our foreheads; we return to a gradual numbing.

Some are rather quick to brush away the ash remnants from one day of the year and yet, most of our instinct drives us to post an offering of prayers and thoughts when mortality seeps in circumstantially.    

While I am not downplaying the importance of extending prayers and naming that for what it is, I struggle knowing that the very fears present in events such as yesterday perpetuate. The prophet Joel challenges us to rend our hearts, not our clothing. The clothing is fleeting and ephemeral, but often the rending in which we engage; we turn to short lived solutions that carry no weight. What if we sought to rend our hearts with the same permanency that exists in the ashes we are so quick to omit from memory? The act of rending is dynamic and transformative, but until we reclaim that same prophetic spirit in the face of mortality, the smudges grow stale.

Posted by Ryan LaRock with