On The Edge Of Ashes
Last year's Hosanna's have gone. Palm branches have been burned and what is left resides in a small container no larger than my hand. The ashes, the dark, smudgy ashes are ready for marking. But what do they mark, really? What do they remind us of? Why do so many in the world chose to have this mark imposed on them?
These sooty ashes are applied with the words "You are dust and to dust you will return", and so they remind us of our earthiness. They speak of our mortality, for we shall return to dust, but they also remind us of our humanity. They whisper the ancient story of a God who fashions creatures out of soil. These ashes remind us of our beginnings and endings, ans so teach us to number well our days.
Yes, they may remind us that someday we may die, but they shout at us to live! To live, not in sin, but in new life. To not get stuck but to walk toward something (or Someone) with new practices. These ashes beg us to live by letting go...or taking up some new action. They cheer us on to life - not half-lived in mediocrity, but toward rigor, challenge, and a robust faith.
Ashes have long been a symbol for sorrow and grief. These ashes remind us to take inventory of our lives, and in the ensuing sorrow, lead us to repentance. The cross of ashes whispers what many in our world do not know: there is freedom in serving only one Master. Repentance becomes the door to transformation.
The ashes declare that transformation is possible, and we do not go it alone. Through the renewing of our minds, through allowing God to change our psyche, a new person can emerge. We are not left to ourselves in a fatalistic universe. God has intervened and we can become new creatures!
The ashes also offer us an invitation to come and follow Jesus into the wilderness. They invite us to fast and pray for 40 days. Jesus, the Master, did it and we are to follow Him. These cinders invite us into a new kind of humanity that we find in Jesus. A humanity who chooses the Father and His will over and above the screeching temptations of "take care of yourself", "prove yourself", and "indulge yourself with power".
Coming to the edge of ashes takes courage. Will we allow them not to just mark our foreheads but our whole being as well? Will we let them do their full 40-day work, even long after we've rubbed off their smudges?
"Oh God, let something essential happen to me, something more than interesting or entertaining or thoughtful.
Oh God let something essential happen to me, something awesome, something real. Speak to my condition, Lord, and change me somewhere inside where it matters.
Let something happen which is my real self, Oh God." (Ted Loder, Guerrillas of Grace)
Tara Malouf is a wife to David, mom to Mikaela and Luc, a photographer and occasionally, a writer. During the week, you can find her in Wellspring’s office at her standing desk in her role as Church Administrator. But ultimately, she’s always said that when she grows up, she wants to be a professional friend!