Yesterday morning, starting at 6am, seven of us offered Ashes to Go at the Metra Station—well, just beyond the Metra platform, as it turns out. While many people walked by without a second glance, many others smiled or nodded and roughly 125 people asked to receive. We asked their name and then, while making the sign of the cross on their forehead we said: N, remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return. Remember that you are loved by God. Many expressed their deep appreciation through words while others were moved beyond words. I’m struck each time we do this, how meaningful it is to meet people in such a profound yet simple way in the midst of a busy morning.
A Daily Herald reporter came and spent quite a bit of time with us, interviewing several of us from St. Simon’s as well as a number of people who received ashes. At about 8:15, those of us who remained decided to head home; the drizzle and damp cold had seeped through our layers. I had just warmed up with another shower and was preparing to go to the office, when I heard that a Chicago Tribune reporter was headed to the Metra Station. I scrambled back into vestments and headed over to meet the reporter, giving thanks for a media training class I had taken through Auburn Seminary years ago.
There is nothing quite like having a camera in your face and being asked to sum up your thoughts coherently and quickly to make your heart race. But I remember being encouraged to get clear about what matters to us long before we meet a reporter, so that we are ready to speak from the heart about what is essential. And I realize just how important it is to me that we find ways to reframe Ash Wednesday, Lent and the Christian faith. I know that in the eyes of many people on that train platform, the church represents at worst an organization focused on judgment and, at best, a club for insiders who are hypocrites. Many in our culture have been wounded by church, and many others feel its message is irrelevant or destructive.
Yet I know that human beings long for connection, meaning and worth, and I know that Jesus offers all of that and more. We need to know that we are loved, even in those places buried deep within that were wounded long ago and which, unhealed, cause us to wound ourselves as well as others in our path. Lent is an invitation to be steeped in God’s love for us, for all of us; Lent is an invitation to allow that love to hold us so firmly that we can let go of the things that block us from that love and from living the joy-filled life God yearns for us to live. God’s desire is that we might live the resurrection life here and now. For when we are rooted and grounded in God’s love, we are set free from all fear, even fear of death. Richard Rohr puts it this way:
We need to reshape our image of God. Most of us begin with some notion of God as a Being, and then we discover through Jesus that such a Being is loving. The Trinitarian revelation instead starts with the nature of loving—and this is the very nature of being! There is now a hidden faithfulness and goodness at the heart of the universe. Everything is now positioned to transform all our lead into gold; the final, inherent direction of history is toward resurrection.
God’s invitation is to all of us is to live from a place of expansiveness, from an abiding joy that refuses to be shaken by external circumstances because it comes from living connected to the Source of life and to one another. Lent is an opportunity to dwell in that love more fully that we may embody that Love in our living.
See the articles and video clips linked below. Hope to see you Sunday,