As I write this, it’s a beautiful autumn day outside. After a week of extreme heat, today is a desperately-needed refreshment. It rained lightly last night and the smell of rain is still hanging in the air. The sky is cloudy with some spots of blue daring to peep through from time to time. Some leaves on the trees are starting to change colour, but I think this is more due to the recent heatwave than to the new season, which is not even a week old.
It’s also Ash Wednesday.
Traditionally this is the day the liturgical church declares the depravity and mortality of humankind.
As a cross of ash is made on our foreheads, we are reminded of our transient state:
“Remember you are but dust, and to dust you shall return.”
Or, instead, we may be challenged:
“Repent and believe the good news”
Or, in different words:
“Turn from your sins and follow the Saviour.”
Ash Wednesday contains in its essence both a reminder of who we are and also a challenge to become who we are meant to be.
While our own mortality is something we all must learn to deal with (death happens to all, no exceptions), turning from a life of self-fulfilment and self-pleasure to walk in the way of Jesus is counter-intuitive at its best. Giving up what we want? Letting go of what we have? Forsaking the identity we’ve forged for ourselves and lived out all of our life?
In the words of Coldplay:
Nobody said it was easy
No one ever said it would be this hard
Oh take me back to the start
It’s always difficult when we are called to give up, let go and forsake. We must come first to the place of recognition that there is a better way. We must then go through the process of casting off the old and exposing ourselves–being vulnerable–in acknowledging the part we have played in who we are at the present.
But then . . . but then! We are privileged to be able to start again. No matter what we have done. Regardless of where we have been. Despite all our past.
In this moment we are made new. The slate is wiped clean. We begin again.
We start on a journey as we, through humility and courage, move forward in the way of Love, becoming who we were created to me.
I’m not a big fan of the institutional Church nor of what Christianity has become. There is no argument that organised religion has a lot for which to answer, both in the past and in our world today.
Yet, the symbolism attracts me and speaks to me in ways no catechism, no systematic theology, no rules or standards ever could. And in accepting the symbol of ash in a sign of the cross on my head, I am accepting that I have not yet arrived at where I need to be, but, every day I am changing, growing, learning, loving . . . becoming.
This is where I need to be today.
And, on Ash Wednesday, this is my hope and prayer for you:
Let today be the day you give up who you’ve been for who you can become.