In his message to the congregation this week, the rector of All Souls Memorial Church in Woodley Park, Father John Beddingfield, spoke of our own ashes for the year. He said, “mediating on the ashes of my expectations and assumptions might invite me to recall that God is in charge, and God alone.” Within this sentence he makes plain the need for us to connect to our own “things” and lay them upon the altar for ashes.
I have a set of ashes on my mantle. The small thimble full of ashes of my beloved who await their final resting place. And I will have a second set of ashes soon too, that of my sweet pup Parker. The third member of our Thomuto team, who joined his Dad today and will have his final resting place with him some day. In these ashes lay the loss not only of my two loves and my family, but in the loss of expectations and plans for the future.
So I might wallow a bit in metaphorical sackcloth and ashes but I realize that this will not draw me nearer to God. It is these deep, horrible, painful losses that I see plain that I do not have control. My own plans, expectations, and goals may not be in line with God’s plan and purpose for my life. While I probably could have sufficed with a loss of job or a broken bone, God needed me my heart to be broken in order to truly reveal himself to me. And so, God does, daily revealing wisdom through friends, words, sunsets, compassionate gestures, endless boxes of kleenex, strong coffee, television characters, and the laughter of children.
These ashes remain with me, not as a punishment, but as a reminder that the promise of God, through the resurrection, is the greatest gift. Henri Nouwen, in his book Turn My Mourning into Dancing, quotes Thomas Merton, “the real hope is not in something we think we can do, but in God, who is making something good out of it in some way we cannot see.” My hope remains in the Lord—whose ashes I bear as witness to his sacrifice and salvation.
As we approach the season of Lent, I seek to honor these ashes. I seek to reach a place of gratitude that allows me to celebrate the past, honor it, and move forward on the path that God is building ahead of me. Ken and I used the word forward a lot. We talked about how, in the midst of job struggles, dog struggles, motivation struggles, that we needed to keep moving forward. We needed to keep up the pursuit of our goals. I still want to move forward. And I want to move forward with the knowledge that my goals and expectations may not fall into God’s wide net for my life. I will be corrected and I will be grateful.
May this season of Lent allow you to examine your own need to create ashes. Your own place for renewal. May you be graced with clarity, simplicity, and peace.