Yesterday was Ash Wednesday.
One of the many terms I had heard growing up, usually said in derision about the “dead” mainline religions, that I only knew in passing and certainly not in practice.
Why is it so much of the 20th and now 21st century evangelical movement decided it was necessary and good to throw away the ancient practices of our faith that for centuries had united the body of believers during the holy times of year?
I’m not saying every church needs a formal liturgy and hymnal worship. I’m not saying we should worship tradition. But there are practices that go back hundreds of years and beyond that could for a few days out of the year unite the body, the church catholic, the communion of saints.
Ash Wednesday is one such day. People of Christian denominations world wide observe this day as a time for the body of Christ to begin reflecting on the upcoming Easter season. It’s a penitential season. And with our broken world, a time to seek forgiveness and confess our wrong-doings toward each other in a spirit of restoration could go a long way, don’t you think?
Now, our little church meets in a coffee shop. We don’t have a a standalone church building. Sadly, that means having a formal Ash Wednesday service wasn’t exactly an option this year (note to my pastor – uh, I have ideas for next year, however). I could have gone to another church and participated in the Ash Wednesday service there. I could have worshiped, prayed, and received the ashes in the mark of a cross on my forehead from a minister I don’t really know. But let’s get serious. I’m an introvert. Stepping into an unknown church and having a stranger rub ashes on my forehead, I’ll pass.
That’s not to say that I didn’t want to let the day go by without observing Ash Wednesday and reflecting on the season of repentance… the season leading to the sacrifice of the Savior. From dust we are created and to dust we will return. Morbid? No, it’s factual and it provides significance to the life I have. I should make the most of this time and my chief aim should be to Love God and others.
Having children, I was struggling with exactly how to explain all of this too them. We started laying the groundwork last year with observing Lent, but how to explain Ash Wednesday? And then I read a blog by someone I follow on Twitter, a mom and pastor named April Fiet. She wrote an article yesterday about Teaching Ash Wednesday to Children. It was exactly in our wheelhouse. We homeschool. We enjoy nature walks. We collect weird pine cones and leaves and rocks regularly.
I like the way April says it in her blog:
The reality is, all of us know that our lives could change at any moment. Life is fragile and unpredictable. The older we get, the more people we lose and the more grief we experience. While the world around us seems to glorify youth and seeking ways to defy aging, we all know that we are not immortal.
As much as we try to avoid and institutionalize death, we cannot escape it.
Although it seems strange or awkward, I think it is important to involve our children in conversations about death and dying. Even though – most likely – our children have many years of life ahead of them, they will encounter the loss of loved ones along the way. By inviting them into conversations about death and grief, we help our children see the value in talking about our losses rather than attempting to avoid them.
In the church, Ash Wednesday is a gift – an opportunity to begin the conversation about death and loss in a way that’s framed by an expression of faith.
So yesterday, in the bitter cold (okay, that’s relative, I know, but 38F with gusty winds is bitter for Charleston, SC), we collected our leaves and pine cones. Dried and dead, having fallen from the trees over the late fall and early winter, they were soon to decompose and serve as mulch to feed the trees and plants in the woods next to our house. We put them in a little tin pan and set them in our fire ring to burn, to turn them to ash. And I was able to explain to my children on their level a little about Ash Wednesday, building pieces of their faith brick by brick. I was able to explain to them that the only things that lasts forever is God’s love for them.
It was a good little conversation. It didn’t last forever because the trampoline beckoned my little two and the gusty winds meant we couldn’t do a full fire. But we burnt the collection of dead leaves and twigs and pine cones. And then we scooped the ashes up and placed them in a glass jar with some dirt. In a week or so, we’ll plant grass seed and the ashes of the plants we burned will help feed the new, blossoming plants. We’ll be able to see the roots dig into the soil and the fruit of that seed will grow into blades of grass. And after a season, I’m sure, the grass will die and turn to dust. From dust we are created and to dust we will return. But from that ash, life begins anew.
Ash Wednesday. It’s the start to a season that says, “Spring is coming. Easter is coming. New life is coming.”
The soundtrack in my head all yesterday was Beautiful Things by Gungor. Enjoy the video.
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us