“Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.” – Psalm 51:11-12
I write this reflection with a great deal of indebtedness to Jan Richardson, whose Ash Wednesday article “The Hands that Hold the Ashes” helped carry me through the wilderness of grief. Ash Wednesday 2014 would be different. I approached it living at the intersection of just having lost Priscilla to the disease called Sarcoidosis, and the Ash Wednesday winter storm that forced St. Francis to an online service long before COVID-19.
How would I get through this wilderness place of grief without my community of faith to help me hold the ashes? I confess that I could not, nor would I ever be strong enough in the face of human mortality. I was living with its ache, and there was no other way but to go through. No shortcuts would help me. To make it through this wilderness, I would need a grace that was greater.
We live in so many wilderness places: the war in Ukraine, COVID-19, racism, injustice, environmental disasters, and the growing tension within the denomination that taught me about grace and God’s unconditional love for all people. However, I believe with Marilyn McEntyre that “[p]eople who empty themselves in the wilderness always meet a God who is greater than they would dare hope.”
It is with this hope that I encourage you to remember during the Lenten journey that there will always be hands deep enough to hold the ashes. The hands of Jesus will bear the scars of a wondrous love that will never let us go, no matter the wilderness. His are the hands that hold the ashes.
Will You Meet Us?
A Blessing for Ash Wednesday
Will you meet us in the ashes, will you meet us in the aches and show your face within our sorrow and offer us your word of grace:
That you are life within the dying, that you abide within the dust, that you are what survives the burning, that you arise to make us new.
And in our aching, you are breathing, and in our weeping, you are here within the hands that bear your blessing, enfolding us within your love.
Bishop Leonard E. Fairley