Lent is nearly upon us! Ash Wednesday is Wednesday March 1. I’ve been working on a little side project – a Lenten devotional – complete with short Bible readings, reflections, and prayers. The Kindle version is available now, with the paperback releasing within days. I invite you to use this personally, with a friend, in a small group, or in a variety of other ways you might imagine! To whet your appetite, I’ve included the first reflection for Ash Wednesday. If you like it, buy it today, write a review on Amazon, and share with friends!
RETURN TO THE GROUND
All go to one place; all are from the dust, and all turn to dust again. Ecclesiastes 3:20
Ash Wednesday may be the most formative day of my year. On Ash Wednesday, we hit RESET. On Ash Wednesday, we return to the ground.
I don’t like the ground. I’ve designed my reality so that I can avoid the ground. I hover three feet above the ground at all times, resolved to avoid the calamities, the humiliations, the shame of life on the ground. The pace of my life, the avoidance of my pain, my perfectionistic tendencies – all reveal my fear of the ground.
When I was young, I remember Ash Wednesday as a rather morbid affair. I recall it as a day when pastors hammered the message of human sinfulness into our stubborn ears. I imagined the pastor waking up that morning like a delighted little child, anxious for this Lenten season of sanctioned guilt-driven preaching. To my young mind, the whole dark season felt like a manipulative ploy led by robed and hooded “sour-faced saints”[i] scheming to remind Christians just how scandalously sinful they really are. I didn’t know why we couldn’t just skip to Easter.
No one ever told me.
No one ever told me about the power of these words:
You are dust, and to dust you shall return.
No one ever told me what a gift it would be to return to the ground of my being, to relinquish the exhausting attempt to fly just a bit above everyone else, to relax my fatigued ego. No one ever told me that Lent was an invitation to rest.
Have you heard about this gift to us, to the church, called Ash Wednesday? Could it be a gift to you, as well?
For years as a pastor, I had the extraordinary privilege of imposing ashes on foreheads. Sometimes I longed to say, “It’s alright…come on down. Return to your ground. It’s so much easier down here.”
On the ground and in the dust there is no façade. No more hiding. Only rest.
And it’s where Jesus can find you. Jesus came down, you see. To the dust. In the flesh. And so, you no longer need to prove yourself or protect yourself. There is no ladder to climb, no stairway to the pearly gates, no performance strategy, no purity ritual.
Only surrender. Only rest.
“Come to me, all you who are weary,” Jesus says. “Not up there…down here!”
No more ladders. No more climbing. Into the dust, where God meets you and renews you.
Creator God, you made me from the dust, but that has not always been a pleasant thought. Can you help me imagine dust as a welcome place, however, where I’m enough, just as I am, just as you’ve created me, just as you hold me in Jesus? I long for the rest this might bring. Amen
[i] St. Teresa of Avila