For Ash Wednesday today, we have a guest blogger. My dear friend Janet Davis, author of 3 books including The Feminine Soul: Surprising Ways the Bible Speaks to Women and the soon-to-be-released book My Own Worst Enemy: How To Stop Holding Yourself Back has written these reflections about her own favorite moment during Ash Wednesday observances, which has now become my own favorite moment. From Janet:
It is quite simply my favorite moment in the church year. And it happens on Ash Wednesday, that day when someone smears the ashes of the palms from last year’s Palm Sunday on my forehead in the shape of a cross. That day when I hear once more these words confessing my mortality and finitude: “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” That day when I wear my own shadow, my own particular darkness, front and center for all to see.
But it is not the moment of receiving the ashes, nor owning their deep meaning, that transforms me. It is a little while after that (at least in the flow of the traditional Episcopal liturgy) when I exchange the peace of Christ with my neighbors in the midst of wearing my… our… ashes.
In that moment I feel the good news of Jesus like no other time in the church year. I remember that, in God, connection happens not in spite of my sinfulness but in the midst of it. With my head held up, my ash-stained face open, and my hand out-stretched, I touch those around me as our eyes connect and our words entwine: “The peace of Christ be with you.” For just a moment, all shame and blame games are gone, not because my hiding or my attempts to prove myself worthy have worked, but precisely because they have not. All apologies for my… our… humanity feel suddenly unnecessary, all defenses silenced as we relax into our brokenness and the ever-present, immediately incarnate, love of God.