When I’ve served in parish ministry, at this is the time of year, I would make ashes. It’s always a messy affair. Those dried out palms from last year’s Palm Sunday burn fast and give off a black, acrid smoke. If a gust of wind happens to blow, the fine gray ash takes flight and sticks to everything. Then comes the process of picking out the charred stems and bits of unburnt leaves. I always finish smelling like smoke and smudged with soot.
I could buy the ashes from a church supply company. That would be much less messy. But I prefer to make them myself. The Season of Lent is supposed to be a bit messy. This is a time of spiritual reflection, and sometimes deep reflection isn’t nice and neat. Sometimes we have to confront some of the sootier aspects of our lives.
Ashes are an ancient symbol of confession and sorrow. Ashes are what’s left when things burn down. The Season of Lent, this 40-day prelude to the new life of Easter, is when we allow all that doesn’t contribute to compassion and loving-kindness in our lives burn away. And picking through the charred stems of life no easy process. It takes careful attention that can leave you smelling like smoke and smudged with soot.
But ashes aren’t the end. Ash Wednesday comes at the beginning of Lent. Ashes may be a sign of what needs to go from our lives, but they also carry the promise of what connecting with God’s Spirit can do. Think of fire as the living flame of God’s love, and keep in mind that after a forest fire, ashes add nutrients to soil and allow lush, new life to grow.
During this Season of Lent, I’m going to consider what needs to become ash in my life, what I need to leave behind because it doesn’t produce love. And I going to look for where love can grow through what I think, say, and do.
Have a holy Lent.