Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Another Ash Wednesday

Another Ash Wednesday.  Another Lent. Another season in the liturgical year to contemplate “what does it all mean” and “how do I live like it means anything at all?”  No matter what Jesus’s followers thought he was all about—and the Gospels record their opinions as all over the map—the events of that fateful Passover had to have taken them by surprise.  Whatever their expectations for the Jesus movement, his execution for criminal sedition was a big game-changer.  Who could have foreseen such an event? (Arguably Jesus, but if so, he didn’t seem to go about making it very clear to even his closest followers.) And having seen their leader die ignominiously, what were they to make of it?  In order to go on with their own lives, how were they to integrate his death into their own personal histories as a meaningful event? 

Eventually, the various atonement doctrines, revisionist messianic prophecies, and the deification of Jesus by the increasingly political church provided catechistic answers to these hard questions.  Ultimately, though, we each have to answer that question of meaning for ourselves just as the original followers grappled with it in the first century.  Each of us must find our own meaning in life regardless of what answers are served up to us by church or culture. 

Lent is a six-week period designed to reflect on what meaning we will give our lives. Two years ago, I began The Chronicles as a Lenten exercise, expecting 40-Days-to-a-Renewed-You.  What I got was a continuing odyssey in spiritual death and resurrection.  I thought that February of 2010 that I was nearly recovered from my then two-and-a-half year struggle with dysautonomia/adrenal dysfunction.  Little did I know I was only beginning a whole new adventure in chronic disease and spiritual health!  Like the first disciples, who could have foreseen how often in the last two years I would beg that this cup should pass from me, how many times I cried out from the depths of my soul for the God who had forsaken me, how close I would come to sighing simply, “it is finished.”

This sojourn in my personal Abyss has been more malevolent than I ever expected, the skeletons in my closet became demons that nearly destroyed my soul.  Not for lack of willingness on my part did they fail; more times than I can count, I pleaded just to die and to let the inner struggle cease.  But God kept waking me up to one more dawn; weep though I did at yet another day of hauling my weary, aching, broken self out of bed.  Grace is a terrible thing.

Lent has come around again. Why am I still here?  What is my purpose in continuing to breathe, to think, to move?  In the last few weeks I have been slowly resurrecting from the ashes of my old dead self, why do I live?  Grace transforms, whether we will or no.  What has grace wrought?  Like those devastated survivors of that crucial crucifixion, I look around me and begin to pick up the pieces of myself that I find and discover that they fit together differently that before.  I am not the same person who went into this grave, who is this new person Grace has borne?

Jesus’s followers began their fateful journey, leaving every part of the lives they knew in Galilee, traveling to another country for a religious celebration, only to find that everything on which they had staked they hopes and dreams was staked instead to a cross as a common criminal. Their lives, their plans, lay destroyed at the foot of the cross that scattered them to the winds.  Grace transformed those shattered people into a force that changed (for good as well as evil) the course of history.  What will Grace make of me? 

Lent. Six weeks to nurture the new healing, the tender green spirit that has sprung new roots into the Ground of my Being.  Forty days to reach for the light, to burrow into the ground.  Who will emerge from the seed of the resurrection?


  1. Rather than "What is my purpose here"?, how about, what do I need to repent of, and can I come to a place where I can reach across the table with those I consider my enemies? I haven't made it yet, but am oh so aware of my short comings, and what God would have me do.


    1. ... because those questions, with those words and phrases, make the whole conversation about what is wrong with me, my sin/inherent unworthiness, my need to do something to be holy, rather than a focus on the worthiness of all creation, that living another day and putting another foot in front of the other is a courageous holy act all of its own.

  2. "I want to ask you, as clearly as I can, to bear with patience all that is unresolved in your heart, and try to love the questions themselves, as if they were rooms yet to enter or books written in a foreign language. Don’t dig for answers that can’t be givenyou yet: you cannot live them now. For everything must be lived.Live the questions now, perhaps then, someday, you will gradually, without noticing, live into the answer." ~Rainer Maria Rilke, Worpswede, July 16, 1903, Letters to a Young Poet


    1. I blogged that same quote a couple years ago
      and it is still as relevant today!

  3. Wow! This is great stuff. It is your journey, the journey of the disciples, my journey, and the journey of every person who is thinking, feeling, and deeply longing.

    Yes, your journey is different from all the rest; it is unique as each of ours is. Yours has a definite physical component, and that seems to overwhelm completely, but grace won’t allow that. Yet, while each experience varies considerably, we all have to face the fact that life is never what we plan, what we wish for, what we work so hard for, what we long for.

    And then, after 40 days—or whatever time period it may be for each of us—comes resurrection, life, newness, abundance. And that, too, is undoubtedly different for each of us. There is always a future and a hope even in the darkest night of the soul. Go for it because the surprising “Alleluia,” now silent, awaits us at the conclusion of our own personal Lent.


  4. Dear Sandy,

    Since I read your latest blog post and responded to it, I have reread it several times, finding more depth of meaning and shattering emotions in it each time. It truly speaks to me at a deeper and more profound level each time I read and ponder it.

    Then, as I have reread my knee-jerk response to it, I now see how flippant and non-empathetic it is. Two days later it rings hollow, with the typical fundagelical stuff, which has neither helped you nor me. Forgive me, dear daughter.

    While I sense I have moved closer to finding my own meaning in life over these past years, I failed in my reply to admit how far I yet need to move. The church and culture surely have not helped us much. What I sense has been most helpful has been outside of organized religion though I still attend and grimace at certain parts of the liturgy.

    But mostly I did not see until subsequent readings the depth of despair you expressed in the middle portion of this post. As too many people, I want to rush through Lent and get to Easter!—I rushed through these middle paragraphs to get to the ending. Yet, your forty days has stretched into two years, four-and-a-half years. How much longer may this complex trial of yours go on? Who can see at this point what the next forty days or two years or more will bring you, or either of us?

    It hit me forcefully as I read this morning, “… how close I would come to sighing simply, ‘it is finished.’” The reality of that statement escaped me until today … both its implications as to your life, your family’s life, my life. But more so the depth of pain that such a statement reveals—pain I have not experienced.

    Bless you as you experience Grace, even if “Grace is a terrible thing,” as it has been for you.

    I plan to continue to read and reread this post for I sense there is much more that I have not yet plumbed. It will become, as it has already become, a part of my Lenten experience. I pray it may continue to grow in its effects on and in me.

    I’m sorry I sent off the earlier reply so unthinkingly. May Lent 2012 be good for you, whatever that may mean.

    Love you, Dad