Wednesday, February 22, 2012

2012.02.22 Ash Wednesday

Today is the day of ashes, the day Christians begin the season of Lent

-a time to remember who we are in Christ, both human and divine
-a time to be humble—right-sized, not too grand and not too small— failed and flawed, also good and glorious
-a time to know we are very good, not very God
-a time to scrape the barnacles from our souls, hearts, minds, and bodies; to forgive and begin again the movement with Jesus toward a Jerusalem of truth and trust
-a time not to avoid the Gethsemane of agony, the sorrow and pain of sin; and a time not to linger or get stuck in that Gethsemane
-a time to grieve and a time to hope in the enormous span of divine mercy alone....swift to save, slow to anger, and abundant in steadfast love.

We want to, but it’s no good for Christians to ignore sin even though the word is out of favor and mostly misunderstood.

I remember when years ago I was asked to offer a class, optional of course, for high schoolers. The young people were interested in religion and God, but not the bad judging kind. The biggest question they had was : HOW DO YOU KNOW WHEN YOU SIN?

I told them the simplest thing I could think of: YOU FEEL IT.

This led to a lively discussion centering on conscience as a gift from God to help us move along, not towards moralism but to spiritual wholeness. An inner guide to help us connect with goodness in ourselves, God, and our neighbors whenever we forgot it.

All of them good? Yup—even those you hate, the bullies and the nerds, the popular stuck-up ones, etc. etc. High school culture can be a cruel petri dish for vulnerability and growth.

The students and I had the most fun laughing about how you could break a big fat rule and know it wasn’t sin because you didn’t feel bad about yourself—like breaking a rule for the sake of helping someone you really cared about. One young man skipped Mass to help a friend with some homework AND didn't confess. Sinner?

Or...sometimes you could feel sinful and guilty when you didn’t sin at all. One teen concluded she apologized too much for nothing. "It’s like I feel like I AM sin but I’m not!” she said. Many identified.

On Ash Wednesday we Christians smear ashes on our foreheads to remind us of our vulnerability to all kinds of sin, real or imagined. We say, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” Not morbid, simply true.

Lent is a time to be aware of sin AND a time not to get mired in it.