by Ken Sehested
The imposition of Ash Wednesday, inaugurating the practice of Lenten lament, is the preparation for and anticipation of the exultation of Easter Morning.
The ashen smudge is not accusation but recognition of our frenzied and frantic efforts at braggadocios living; it is the call to reclaim our true selves in the leisure of Sabbath’s composure aligned with Creation’s intent.
To live in this sort of leisure, this sort of rest, comes by acknowledging Creation’s gravitational sway on history’s alignment with the Creator’s assignment.
Yet such acknowledgment entails the confession that Creation’s orbit is off-kilter, now more like a demolition derby, the whole world shaking and rattling and crashing one into the other in a seemingly insatiable quest for supremacy, seized (and self-hallowed) by strength of hand or guile of spirit or deceit of agency.
Lenten observance is the candid recognition that this is so; and that we ourselves, in ways large and small, are implicated beyond our ability to fathom, much less rectify.
Ash Wednesday does not signal the menace of divine carnage. Lenten submission is not groveling in hope of divine lenience. It is the recognition that we are far from home, forever squeezed in the grip of threat, and have been invited to return to the Beloved’s sheltering wing, to the table of bounty beyond imagination, to repose in green pastures besides still waters and restorative embrace—all in the presence of enemies not as targets of spite but for shared anthems of praise.
Our ashen signature is a call to abandon the world but not the earth—the earth that was blessed in the Beginning and will again, as promised, be Heaven-infused.
The “world” is the rule of racketeers and traffickiers and financiers: We are called to name them, to remediate their victims, and insert ourselves in risky, disrupting ways into their machinations.
In truth, Ash Wednesday is not an imposition but an extrication from the shackles of scarcity’s illusion. It is the road to freedom. There is a certain solitude in our journey, but not isolation. The Way unfolds only to those who gather castaways along the journey—the final Welcome, vouchsafed by the company of the disappeared.
Your ashen smear beckons you to get woke! Awake, awake from hazy indifference or anxious fray. Persevering hope comes not by averting eyes from scorched streets and choked streams. Death defying hope is forged from the ashes for those washed in the penitential wake.
Behold the beauty still lacing the earth. Pry yourself, piece by pound, from the Deceiver’s web, and lend your weft to the Beloved’s warp in reweaving the fabric of God’s Commonwealth.
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