40 Words #1: “Ash”


It’s Lent 2015.

Forty days of reflection and contemplation, surrender and sacrifice.

Or something like that.

I wanted to do something for Lent that would stretch me (don’t worry: I have my own practices of surrender and sacrifice, but I’m going to keep those between my family and me).

So each day during Lent, I’m going to publish a short blog/devotion wrapped around one word.

So, “40 Words.”

Each of these words represents some aspect of Lent to me. Some of them will be obvious, like today’s. Others may be more… “tangential”.

(Great word, “tangential”.)

I’ve chosen them, they are written down, and each day I’ll publish something in the morning: feel free to use it as a devotion or just a quick read at lunch.

I’m not promising anything profound; I’m just promising a presence.

So here we go.


Lent kicks off with “Ash Wednesday”. For many denominations and churches all over the world, people file into buildings of various style and size and hear readings about confession and remembrance. Songs are sung, and at some point people file up to the front of a room where they stand in front of a pastor or priest—someone “set aside” in the community to guide people, to administer sacraments, to represent them to God—who then dips his or her finger into a bowl of ashes (the burnt palm fronds from the previous years’ Palm Sunday) which are sometimes mixed with oil. The pastor/leader then will make the sign of the cross on the person’s forehead, usually saying something like, “Remember it’s from dust you have come, and to dust you will return; repent, and believe the Gospel” (or some combination thereof).

Up until a few years ago my particular faith tribe didn’t really remember Ash Wednesday or Lent, but after a few of us began engaging in the season (in particular Holy Week), the church decided to officially “making the journey.”

Ash, along with the saying, reminds me, well, of death. 

Death is something we don’t like to think about in our culture, but it’s the one thing that awaits us all. Our time on this earth is finite.

To me, ash reminds me that the life I have costs something. My affluence costs others. The food I eat costs either a life, or at the very least the time and efforts of someone, somewhere.

Ash reminds me that I’m nothing special; and yet I’m someone infinitely important.

I am loved by God. Loved on a visceral, guttural level.

A love that cost Jesus. 

And yet, I’m human. “Covered in earth and dirt.”

I stumble and fall. Limited and incapable of even living half of a day (if that) without falling victim to my pride, arrogance, narcissism, and self-centeredness.

Ash says that, somehow, I’m simultaneously both loved and flawed. 

And that’s okay.

Maybe today is about not covering up our flaws, but at the same time that God meets us right in the middle of them, not matter how serious they seem to be. 



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