Reflection for Ash Wednesday, Year A
An unpolished poem for a day of ash and glitter
Textual Focus: Joel 2; Isaiah 58; Matthew 6
Click here for biblical texts
The Ash Wednesday readings seem an odd collection,
especially Matthew, for the day on which we mark our foreheads
with faith for all the world to see; maybe that is why Matthew 6 is chosen,
to remind us that bearing ash marks is not intended
to be an advertisement, not putting our name on a hotel
or other grand building or taking out a full-page ad
in The New York Times, but a pledge, a promise,
to be faithful no matter who is watching or not,
knowing the only one watching who really counts
is God, the One who wants us not to rend our clothes
but our hearts, who calls priests not to exalt but to weep,
so aware of their own failings and those of their neighbors,
who reminds us that the real fast is doing justice,
taking in the homeless, feeding the hungry,
freeing the oppressed, to admit our shortcomings,
our iniquities, to endure whatever hardships
come our way in service to God and God’s people.
And then there is the verse that I remember
every Sunday from early childhood on,
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,”
knowing it was the moment to pull out my dime, or dollar,
or check, or look sheepish and hope no one noticed
as I passed the plate in a swift motion without
adding to it—whether giving or not these words
seemed to carry guilt, sensing that no matter what I added
to the plate it was an inadequate response to what God
gives me. But the plate is only one measure of where my heart is;
how much time do I spend with God? When was the last time
I listened to Jesus, not just talked to him but waited to hear him?
When was the last time I invested myself in being all
God wants me to be?
I saw an Ash Wednesday drive-by yesterday, a church advertising getting
ashes on your forehead when you drive into their parking lot—
no need to come to service, no need to join in community
prayer. At first, I was repelled, maybe still am, but also I
know that it might help some, who would not otherwise bother,
to pause to consider their lives, even for just a few moments.
And glitter. I like glitter, and am glad that some churches
are combining ash and glitter,
acknowledging that I, and everyone else,
is a complex mixture of saint and sinner.
I remember the year I gave up Lent for Lent.
I was tired of beating myself up for my failings
and decided to spend forty days focusing
on my good qualities. I wanted to put my best foot
forward for Jesus, to be all I could be with him
on the journey to the cross. I did that only once,
but I am glad I did, because it has helped me
ever since have a fuller view of me and my relationship
with Jesus, with the Holy Spirit, with God the Parent.
So, here I am, here we are, another Ash Wednesday,
another Lent—again invited to walk
the often dusty and bumpy, sometimes crowded and busy,
at other times quiet and lonely,
even on occasion beautiful and merry, roads of life.
I’m a pilgrim, maybe you, too, with few if any answers,
and I’m here for more than sightseeing.
About this poem . . . I generally approach Ash Wednesday with mixed feelings, aware certainly of my shortcomings, but also not sure how much it helps to focus on them without also seeing my positive qualities, indeed doing that with everyone I encounter and/or care about. I decided that I would not pore over this poem with revision after revision as I often do but let it stand pretty much as it came out—a way of exposing myself for the still being formed person I am.
©Robin Gorsline 2017 FaithfulPoetics.net