Wednesday, February 25, 2009

ashes, ashes

I hit the wall about three hours ago: holy exhaustion.

Yesterday was Fat Tuesday: four hours at my paying job followed by a long day cooking our church Mardi Gras meal then partying with the motley crew that calls Holy Trinity home. There we were together--the homeless and the sheltered, the unemployed and the overworked, the hungry and the overfed--trading beads, eating gumbo, answering seasonal trivia questions (what's the only time of year Baptists have more fun than Episcopalians?) and dancing to zydeco. One young man, working out his life on the edges of survival, walked the ten cold blocks to his apartment and back just to invite his downstairs neighbor. On his way he told a woman coming in: In there is a little bit of paradise.

Today, I stood with a Lutheran pastor, offering ashes to bewildered bystanders in the STA Plaza--a part of our public "ashing" which began with a liturgy of repentance in front of Riverpark Square. Not too many takers in the bus plaza. Our fellow ashers had better luck in the skywalks and outside the mall. Life is scary for a lot of folks who frequent the bus plaza--two women (one in a collar) with sooty crosses on their foreheads are just another uncertainty best avoided.

Tonight, at Holy Trinity, we served our weekly meal to our neighbors: an oddball mix of homeless folks, single moms, street-roving kids, and elders. Too often our guests are lonely, hurting, broken-hearted. Before dinner, we did a brief liturgy of ashes with an explanation of the Ash Wednesday tradition, then offered our guests a smudged cross on forehead or hand. Paul, our priest, spoke of sin as broken relationship. Ashes, he said, are first a recognition that we are not God. And they remind us that we are all made of the same dust by the same merciful One. Lent is a time to connect with God, to repent and restore our broken relationships with God and with people. These marks, he said, are a sign to each other that says we are in this together. Together we sang: Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.

The thumb makes the mark--two strokes of Christ's suffering. The voice speaks these hard words: Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Some received their mark with their eyes closed, some with eyes upcast beyond me. Some met my eyes intently with a look that I can only describe as recognition. And then we gathered at table, a memory of those agape feasts of the early church, a meal where all were fed. And on the face of the other, the cross--a common mark reminding us not just of sin and redemption, but that we are the "other."

So yes, I'm exhausted. Because how can I fathom my own sinfulness? I turn toward God and even in the turning find myself facing away again. What should be Love is too often love. What should be for the Other convolutes into Self. How can I embrace the solidarity required of this faith: we are all--God and people--in this together? But what really wears me out with a beautiful, blessed kind of exhaustion is how--in spite of us, in spite of me--Love washes over it, over us all.


  1. Appointed to bear witness. The burden is both exhaustion and sustenance. Thank-you for sharing a bit of your nourishment.

  2. You don't get more unless you give it away. Blessed conundrum.