I suppose Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday have occurred on the same day some other time in history, but as of now I don’t remember it so much. It’s also supposed to be 64 degrees today, so far the warmest day in 2018, and it’s also gray and cloudy and damp and windy. I had my week planned out to the minute almost, and Monday night the stomach flu struck. It only lasted 24 hours and I’m good to go now, but I lost an entire day of my schedule that had been planned out to the minute. This morning I commandeered a bit of Walt’s time here at Grace to help me bring an antique trunk up from my car to the sanctuary in preparation for the season of Lent. It’s a trunk left to me by my friend Judy, who dearly loved antiques, and the trunk was one of her favorites. It’s oldly gorgeous on the outside (maybe that description fits more than my trunk? *snort*) and on the inside, not so much with the gorgeous. The fabric is worn and a bit stained. I’ve moved it around with me everywhere I’ve lived, and I keep valuable-to-me stuff in it because it just feels safe. It’s now sitting in front of the communion tables to receive some things we’ll “pack away” during the journey of Lent to unpack when we reach Easter. An old trunk “decorating” the chancel area? The look on our building caretaker Carmen’s face said it all this morning as I tried to explain its presence and need to stay in place over the next seven weeks.
Nothing of any of that in the paragraph above really fits well together. I use the term “scritchy”. It all feels a bit scritchy to me. My spell check reeeeeeally doesn’t like that word. It’s Valentine’s, a day to more intentionally(?) share our love with one another, and it’s also a day we mark as people of faith in which we recognize that the world doesn’t revolve around us and that sometimes we’re not all that and a bag of chips. It’s warm but the sun and blue sky haven’t shown up. My schedule is packed and my body says, ‘hey, why not look at your priorities a little differently?!?’ We have wonderful new lights in the sanctuary and I’m bringing in an old trunk that shows its age quite starkly with some ugly spots and stains on the inside that the bright light will make even more clear. Nothing of any of that really seems to fit.
Maybe that’s the point sometimes – of real life. While we may work tremendously hard to make things fit seamlessly, to create a world where all the sounds in our lives are harmonious, to do anything we can to avoid the scritchiness, (think fingernails on a blackboard), that’s not how life is in reality all the time. Enter Lent, right? That’s what Lent is all about. It’s an intentional period of allowing ourselves to recognize and honestly name the times and places and ways and feelings and emotions and words and motives and ambitions and successes and failures and strengths and weaknesses that somehow haven’t seemed to fit in the reality of the lives we live each and every day.
And to have the start of that journey be on a day when, at least in the hallmark gift-dom world, it’s about love, maybe that’s the only real way to start it. Maybe the truth of God’s love for us in our recognition that we aren’t the center of the universe and not always all that and a bag of chips, is that God’s love is deeper and wider and higher and broader than any of the striving for seamless and harmonious and everything “fitting” that we could ever do.
How can we have the courage to be honest about all that we are and not just the best parts that we put on social media sites and try and show the world as we pass each other every day? That courage comes from a God whose grace is not based on our best selves on our best days in our best moods as the best parents or children or friends or colleagues or disciples or even in our best health! Whaaaat?!?
To enter this season with the imposition of ashes – a dusty sign of the cross made on our foreheads with the words “from dust you have come and to dust you shall return” is nothing but an exercise in futility unless we receive and assimilate into the heart of our being the power-full love and grace from a God who wants the best for us – for all of us, and all means all – no exceptions based on our limited human judgements. God wants the best for all and each of us in the midst of the perfect imperfections that we live and struggle with and through with varying degrees of success and failure each and every day. How great is that?!? I think it’s everything! ALL that AND a bag of chips!
So… it’s warm and not sunny; it’s a life filled with planned tasks and the unplanned interruptions; it’s a room filled with new light and the presence of an old, worn trunk; it’s Valentine’s Day AND Ash Wednesday. Somehow the not fitting perhaps fits perfectly.