This morning’s sunrise washed over the inside walls of the house, in pale rose, oranges, soft gold. Ash Wednesday is here, and beginning in a wash of glory. A huge flock of starlings, (not my favorite–but God’s creatures nevertheless) flew in to the bird feeder, and drove away the smaller creatures. We debated whether to shoo them off, but didn’t. They’ll leave shortly, the flock making shapely patterns in the sky as they fly.
Today, we’re having two services at St. Paul, a traditional service at noon, and an evening service with soup. I’ve been thinking the word traditional isn’t really a helpful term, because Ash Wednesday is anything but traditional. It’s a service that pushes against everything we cherish about self-reliance, independence, our intelligence, our adaptability. It pushes against whatever cultures or contexts we live in, because it pushes us into an awareness, never welcome, as far as I can tell, of our frailty, our capacity to do harm. And it offers back, as a service, God’s promise of unbounding grace, washing over us, the way the sunrise did this morning.
There’s nothing traditional or familiar about it; it’s a service that takes us into the realm of holy mystery, the borderlands of the human/divine connection.
We woke up here thinking about soup, for the Soup and Ashes dinner tonight at church. We discussed ingredients, like tomatoes, and squash, maybe some cinnamon? Soup tonight is simple, but it’s possible to flavor simplicity with thoughtful use of spices. One of my favorite cookbooks comes from a Benedictine monastery, dedicated to simplicity, and flavor. The simplicity of Lent isn’t bland, it’s not empty, it’s flavorful, and rich, and it’s so rich with meaning and hope, and wonder, and forgiveness, that we try to let go of other distractions, the better to taste the soup’s flavors. Lent is about savoring the flavor of life, the flavor and substance of our life with God, of taking time to chew on something until we really manage to digest it, taking things in slowly, one at a time.
Jesus said more then once, take a look at the birds, the flowers in the field. Don’t be anxious, slow down. The mourning doves at our feeder are much slower eaters than the starlings. The starlings are a fast food sort of bird. They swoop in, they eat, and they leave, on to the next experience. Doves linger, they commune, they walk around quietly, they sit in nearby trees, and take their time. They also know where good shelter is, and they seek it. They are good teachers for the practices of Lent.
May this day be a blessed day for you, for me, for all of us, who long to draw more near to God, to the heart of love. May the ashes on our foreheads be signs of turning, signs of joy. Whatever your practice this season may be, may it be a joyful expression of faith in a gracious God, whose gracious Son opened the gates of life for us.