Wednesday, February 13, 2013


   Many of us, including myself, imagine ourselves superior to other people.  We are smarter, we are healthier, we are stronger, we are wealthier, we are wiser, we are more faithful, we are simply more.  And so we find little in common with other people.  It leads to a sense of strong individualism, but it also takes us into isolation; it makes me not need the other, and so I don't discover the gift of the other.  We don't like our common humanity, and so we don't like Ash Wednesday.
   Many of us, especially me, don't like our mortality.  We quickly turn past the obituaries in the paper, we find excuses not to attend the funeral of a neighbor.  We are reluctant to visit someone who is in hospice, especially if they are in a coma (and especially if they are in their 'final hours'!), and we hang at the back of the crowd at a funeral home because we don't know what to say.  The death of someone may diminish me, it is true, but it also reminds me of my own death.  We don't like to think of our mortality, and so we don't like Ash Wednesday.
   Many of us, and I am one of many, don't like God (it's okay, you can admit it).  Oh, we hope God likes us, watches over us, cares for us, and all the other things God is supposed to do for us.  But this God who expects me to admit all the screw-ups in our lives; this God who wants me to wear my faith on my forehead; this God who wants us to be Christ's emissaries in the broken places of our world; this God who wants us to break the bonds of oppression, to feed others from our pantries, to speak up for the voiceless, to pick up the fallen?  It's hard to like this God, and so we don't like Ash Wednesday.
    We don't like Ash Wednesday, but when the ashes are placed on our forehead, something happens.  We are able to look around and see that we are as smudged, messy, and broken as the person next to us, and we are family not strangers.  We are able to look at our frail, aging, wrinkling bodies and recognize we are not approaching the end of our journey, but coming up to a new path.  We are able to look at God and see, not the One who has been shaped in our desires, dreams, fears, hopes, but the One who continues to transform us into people of justice, of hope, of freedom, of possibilities.  People of the kin-dom through which we journey during this season of Lent, and all the seasons of our lives.

(c) 2013  Thom M. Shuman

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