Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Ash Wednesday - Lenten Burning

A Lenten oblation has been very difficult for me to decide this year. Most everything that came across my mind seemed like a trite exercise in self control, rather than an actual sacrifice which would relinquish control and challenge me to endure suffering. So last night, as I was riding the train between work in Chicago and home in St. Louis I was being intentional to find the kind of self abnegating act I was looking for. One surrender came to mind repeatedly, but each time, I dismissed it, explaining away the impracticability and impossibility of the act. As many times I justified the act away, I became more and more aware of my need to make this my lenten offering. So last night, as I stood outside alone in the cool air, I made my commitments to die to this liberty.

So here today, this new day, the launching day of lent; I burned. I don't mean I failed a little. No I blew out in a Hindenburg explosion of my will, my situation, and my sacrifice. WOW! Now I have "fallen off the wagon" in other Lenten sacrifices. I have found myself a few weeks into lent, and either by failure of will, or forgetfulness I have resumed my regular life leaving behind my earlier commitment. This was unrelated to those, this was a failure, that as I stood in the ashes of the explosion I knew, this task would make me burn, this test would cause me to die, this is not a souvenir this is a graveyard.

Ash Wednesday, today, is a celebration of death. The grave looms, like God's own self, both immanent and transcendent. Interment is the most inevitable reality of living. That which lives will die, and today the tradition of the liturgical calendar is to embrace the return to dust and ashes that form us. Living is chronic condition. We accept our proximity to death, so that we can experience the abundance of living. We look into the ugly emptiness of the unknown to embrace the beautiful fullness of living.

In the ashes of today's failure, I look at the death I create everyday and I remember the lesson of the forest fire, that from death and ashes, from the soil burned and destroyed, comes emergence, come new vibrant life. I embrace my death, in order to birth life.

"All along I thought
I was learning how to take
How to bend not how to break
How to live not how to cry
But really
I've been learning how to die" - Jon Foreman

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