ash wednesday

Blow the trumpet in Zion;
sound the alarm on my holy mountain!
Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble,
    for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near,
a day of darkness and gloom,
    a day of clouds and thick darkness!
Like blackness there is spread upon the mountains

12 “Yet even now,” says the Lord,
    “return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
13     and rend your hearts and not your garments.”
Return to the Lord, your God,
    for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,

Joel 2:1-2, 12-13 RSV

Ash Wednesday is the beginning of the Lent season for us. In verse 12, God invites us to draw near to them and to enter this space, these 40 days, with openness. We are encouraged to reflect and ponder our relationship with God and others. I like to think of lent as one of the times in the church calendar when the veil between God and us grows thin. A time when we can see, hear and experience God in a new way if we invite ourselves into the space. In this passage from Joel, God continues to invite us in, to gather all peoples to them, for us to reflect on the things that don’t fill us, give us life and love, and turn to a new way of living. I wonder if we accept the invitation what will come to us. Perhaps a clearness of where to put our energy. How to serve others and ourselves better. A letting go of what grieves us. Perhaps these next 40 days will be a time of immense healing or the first step on the path toward healing. 

I remember a particularly hard Ash Wednesday I experienced several years ago. Receiving the ashes on my forehead felt like a black cloud of darkness and doom descending onto my forehead like the mountains in verse 2. I had separated from my spouse the year before, and it was clear the next step was divorce. I had grown up in church and with faith. I never expected divorce to come to me. I felt ashamed. I felt I had let down my marriage vows, kids, family, friends, and church. I wanted to hide in my shame. I wanted to disappear into the darkness after that service. As I received my ashes on my forehead, the band played the song Beautiful Things by Gungor. 

All this pain
I wonder if I’ll ever find my way
I wonder if my life could really change, at all

It encapsulated my feelings. Would I ever find my way again? Could I find footing in my life? Would anything change, and if it changed, would it be for the better?

Oh, you make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

You make me new,
You are making me new

I decided to hold onto the promise at the end of the song that God could and would make things beautiful. That God could make me and my situation beautiful again. It was a beginning of a new journey. It was an invitation to something new. It was a turning away from things that hadn’t given me love and a turning toward what I thought would. These journeys are often long, a reminder that all things take time, and if we lean into God, they will walk the journey with us. Let us journey towards more love and life during this Lenten season.