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A Re-markable Place For Thought

       Of all the Liturgical Celebrations, Christmas to Easter, it often surprises folks that Ash Wednesday is my favorite. This is a pretty funny turn of events even for me because I did not grow up Catholic or even in a Christian denomination that observed Lent. I can’t say I had even heard of the word before moving to Wheeling, WV. Perhaps it could have been that coming from a vast and fast paced city out West it was lost to me by the mere fact that it was not part of the life experience of those that surrounded me. I did have two Catholic friends at one point, so perhaps it was because I was just at a place in my teenage life I just didn’t care about religious observances. Whatever the cause, the situation of people with ashes smeared on their foreheads was new to me. My first encounter was quite embarrassing. Having just moved to Wheeling and falling in love with the rich and deep sense of community and cultures that Wheeling has to offer I was beginning to get to know people, peirogies and just what a “pepperoni roll” was.

I remember the day well ..It was cold and crisp out, sunshine teasing me that it would soon warm up. And I was soooo confused! Everywhere I went it looked like folks had dirt on their forehead. I tried to figure out what was going on. Had there been a dust storm? I knew about Arizona dust storms. Maybe it was like a coal dust storm…but that didn’t make any sense, because then dirt would have been all over their faces, not just in one spot. Hmm…Had all these people been in the same place and had to duck under a pole of some sort…all of them a bit too tall…but that didn’t explain the kid with the dirt on his forehead..Huh…

I went to Krogers…the situation was only getting worse. I saw a lady I sort of knew. We made small talk but I could hardly focus on her eyes because mine were continually being drawn to the mysterious mark on her forehead. I thought of how I appreciate it when someone is friend enough to let me know when my mascara is running or my zipper is down. Shy as a newbie to the area, I first tried the suggestive “wipe my own forehead off” move…She didn’t buy in and wipe hers off. Finally I gently said, “I think a bit of dirt or dust or something got on your forehead “ and I offered her a tissue to wipe it off. She looked at me like I was crazy and just pushed off with her cart. Fast. Ugh! Later that day, I ran into a friend I knew better with dirt on her forehead and I asked her just what was going on! I was horrified to learn about this thing called “Lent” and “Ash Wednesday”…and the forehead dirt was on purpose. Face palm!

It wasn’t long before I found that I was not just falling in love with Wheeling but God…yep, the one that got people to put dirt on their heads…I fell in love with the God who would come as a poor vulnerable baby wanting to be loved, to the same God who would refuse to stop Loving even the Sinners nailing Him to a Cross..And then Ash Wednesday suddenly became my favorite Liturgical Celebration- it holds both Christmas and Easter in context. As an artist myself, I find it the most visually telling celebration of God's Love for us all. If I could only take someone to Mass/Church one time, this would be the day!

It is very interesting that the palms from the year’s prior Palm Sunday are burnt and made into ash, but it is the next step that intrigues me. EVERYONE, Priest/Pastor, Choir, Readers, Altar Servers, Ushers, those in the front pews, those in the back pews, everyone has ashes placed on their foreheads with the words “Remember that you are dust and from dust you shall return”. There is something morbid and marvelous in these words. They are honest. Hello Church- Look around- See for yourself who goes to Church!

So many images flood my mind…but I can’t help of thinking of God making Adam and Eve from dust- An Artist at work creating something beloved. Yet I also think of the ashes from a house burned down. The sad remains of something not as it should be. Suddenly everyone is on level ground. All are marked with Ash, acknowledging their Creator and their need to be something more than they are. It is the best visually equalizing moment in the Church! No one is better than another. And THEN, the great, GREAT AND THEN: we have Communion! As the Priest/Pastor stands with ashes markedly on their own forehead, acknowledging his or her sin, holding up The Host to a fellow brother or sister with ashes markedly on their is here I would begin to explain the Story of God's Life Giving Love for us is one of the most beautiful and powerful images of The Church. The dead come to Life-God.

But Ash Wednesday is also about being in a season of Lent, a continued story as the year’s prior palms remind us…so our story while it might be a rising from the ashes, unlike the mythological Phoenix, acknowledges that we need both a Savior, and continuous help!

On Ash Wednesday this point took a great allegorical form for us as a Piano Tuner came to tune the HoH piano (thanks Nathan for this great gift!). As I watched the Tuner play some tunes, adjust, hit a few more notes and so on, I thought, this is what Lent is for me. The HoH piano is a well loved instrument around here. It certainly is not perfect by any means, but it is something that brings great joy to our community. Taking time to have it tuned is a way of valuing what it does and helps it to do it better. Spending time with God, asking Him to help adjust and tune, teaching us to be better instruments of His Love is both a way to value ourselves and how our relationship serves others.

Recently, my son missed the bus and I was driving him to school. I was enjoying both the music on the radio and the opportunity to sit with my son even if it was because he overslept. I was happy and daydreaming. My foot was on auto pilot maintaining the speed of the highway I usually drive on…except I wasn’t on that highway. I was on one with a much lower speed limit. I was completely unaware of my error until I saw the police man! What was my first thought?! Lent! This is also what Lent is for-those places where we have developed autopilot responses, no longer doing things with intentionality. Living in an intentional manner gives us a space to value what we are doing and consider the why and the how of it as well. When the Piano Tuner finished tuning the HoH piano he played an amazing piece…the piano was never humiliated, or thought less of for needing the Tuner’s help. It was actually a way of recognizing the importance of both the Piano Tuner and the instrument. We need God and God wants us as His instrument – Lent holds a long term look at our earthly and Heavenly future-We are God's. Once the piano was tuned, it has been wonderful watching everyone wanting to play on it. There has been excitement, "ohhs" and "ahhs". Pieces intentionally picked and played to hear the sound and range of the notes. Love.

Lent is falling in Love. Yes, it is a time to recognize our sin, our imperfections but it is just as much of a time to recognize that God wanted to love us anyway, and it is THIS LOVE that draws up and out of ashes into a new creation of His doing…As those musically inclined played the newly tuned piano with such Joy, it inspired others to get out their instruments, a violin, a harmonica, vocals and at one point, a kazoo. Love inspired more love. Our Lent should do that as well…Are we valuing our relationship with God, asking God to help us be the best instrument we can be by letting Him take time to tune us in His Love, are we intentionally valuing what we are doing and how we are doing it, and finally, are we being an instrument that inspires and invites others to use their Gifts in this Great Love song we are called to live out?

I now wear those crazy ashes on my head with great pride…no matter if they are in the shape of a cross, a squiggle or a line looking like I ran into a pole…it means a great deal to me. No one has ever approached me with an offer to help wipe it off, but I would glady decline and explain it means that Lent is here and I love God…and that He loves me much more….and that He is going to keep teaching me ways to perfect pitch how much He Loves each of you!

Blessed Lent,

Your Sister,



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