Today is Ash Wednesday. My evening will end with a service in which a United Methodist Minister will ask the congregation to come to the altar. People will go to the altar and kneel and the minister will dip the side of his thumb in ashes. He will take the purported ashes of last year’s palm branches and spread them on congregants’ foreheads in the form of the cross. The gathering of unholy sinners will leave the red carpet and stained glass windows of the sanctuary with ashes emblazoned on their foreheads and feeling just a little holier and just a little subconscious about flipping the bird at the guy who cuts them off in traffic. You can’t flip someone off if you are holy.
I do not start this day a holy person. I woke up well rested having fallen asleep at 9:30. Being a secretary is exhausting. Handling ten tasks at once for eight hours is exhausting, but soaking in a hot bath for thirty minutes proves restorative so I soaked. I soaked and talked on the phone and went to bed and slept soundly. Waking up at five o’clock in the morning is easy when you have slept soundly and so this morning I woke up and was ready for the day to begin. I anticipate lunch with an old friend as I eat my Honey Nut Cheerios for breakfast and marvel at the quiet darkness as I drive through the neighborhood, depositing my daughter safely with her grandparents. The road out of town was quiet and soft in the early morning glow of street lamps. My car drives itself as I listen to James Naughton read the words of Earnest Hemingway's Moveable Feast in his deep baritone voice. Heading east into town I am hypnotized by this baritone and I listen even if I did not care for Hemingway’s words and I wonder how many people in their twenties even know who Gertrude Stein was or why his portrait of her is so stunning.
This trance is broken when I finally slip out the door of the downtown garage and onto the street that is full of people and the air that is full of garbage and bus fumes. These streets are not quiet. Cleaning women are making their way home and typing women are making their way to work. The only men I see are wearing hard hates and blue jeans. Men in suites don’t come to work this early or else they never walk on the street.
And so this day begins. This day, the first of the holy season of reflection and preparation, begins like any other with simple peace. In the quiet God’s simple assurance of unconditional love speaks volumes. In placing ashes on our foreheads we wear the grace of God and Her love feels absolute and forever. So what happens between the quiet and the ashes? What happens when I walk through air that is full of garbage and bus fumes? God's love is total, unconditional, absolute and forever. The state of grace—God's attitude toward us—is eternal. I am the one who changes with fumes. To receive the love of God is to recognize it is all around us, above us and beneath us; speaking to us through every person, every flower, every bag of trash, every trial and situation.
For the next forty days I give myself the challenge to remember this simple statement once written by the Franciscan monk Richard Rohr - Stop knocking on the door: You’re already inside!