During the winter months when it’s dark and rainy, each time I begin to throw a fit about the weather, a gentle whisper says to me: “But your rosebush and your apple tree are getting a good wash.” These kinds of thoughts always disarm the complainer in me, and the image of a well-watered garden returns me to a place of gratitude with a smile on my face.
Which is very similar to what happened to me this past week on Ash Wednesday.
I was asked to play at the Ash Wednesday Mass at my local church. I really didn’t want to go… was raining, and I felt all achy and ill. Plus, I also didn’t want to get the ashes; the whole thing really depresses me and makes me anxious and sad. It brings up so much stuff that I worked so hard to overcome. (Please read this with compassion.) 🙂
Ashes also make me gag. I can’t even enjoy a bonfire or wood-burning fireplaces because the ashes trigger memories of growing up surrounded by heavy smokers and overflowing ashtrays perched on the tables at which we ate. I remember my stomach turning and my mind trying to find the willpower to block out the messy and stinky ashes. (ugh!) (I was trying to compartmentalize before anyone knew what that meant.) 🙂
Well, as you might have guessed, I ended up accepting the invitation to play at the Ash Wednesday service. (You know me.) In his homily, our priest said something I had never heard before. He explained that we receive ashes to remember our sinfulness and to repent (“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”) But then he asked us if we knew that the ashes are also used as a cleaning agent. Ash is used to make soap, and I’m told it works great as a polish.
That changed everything for me. Yes! I can take ashes as a cleansing agent. I can take the rains as long as they take away all the debris involved in grieving. I can take my brokenness for as long as I know that I’m not being punished by it, but I am being healed through it.
I can’t describe in words how much this changed my outlook on Ash Wednesday. Instead of seeing people with ash marks on their foreheads as repentant sinners (my included), I saw them as each yearning for healing, each of us given a beautiful opportunity and chance for a deeper transformation. Perhaps the dust that we return to, is a God-dust. Not the dirty, smelly ashes from my childhood, but a beautiful place of love from which I had begun.
A few days later I came across these beautiful words that so wonderfully articulate what I often speak about in my talks and which I coach in my online course about transformation.
Let me leave you with this:
What if you only sin when you refuse healing and cling to brokenness? When you use those sharp, broken edges to hurt yourself and others?
What if holiness is when you choose to be whole, even though you’re terrified? When you embrace and enfold those pieces of yourself you’ve lopped off to fit into others’ molds?
What if penitence is when you see yourself clearly, and know, speak, and live from your heart?
What if “repentance” is remembering your true self in all her messy glory?
What if, this Lent, instead of focusing on the ways you’re not good enough and the ways you fall short, you commit to your own healing?
– Barb Morris