Love and Grace in the Ashes

Entering the contemplative season of Lent through the mark of Ash Wednesday requires a bit of prep work. Yesterday I shared 4 Things to Tell Children the Sunday before Lent. I’ve also shared simple instructions for using pretzels to start Lent intentionally as a family, on Five Minute Faith. Today, I realized I had more to say about Ash Wednesday.

At first glance, Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s day are an unholy pairing. The ashes a dark reminder of our limitations, our mistakes, and our mortality set against the paper-doily imaginings of romantic love. These last few weeks I’ve been challenging myself to find the connects between love, grace and ashes. I posted a new coloring sheet and thoughts about that here.

If I had to sum up a Wesleyan understanding of faith, I might start by pointing out that it starts from grace, rather than guilt (though, to be fair, Wesley experienced plenty of guilt).  You can start at either end and still arrive at the same place: God’s overwhelming love shown through Christ. I just imagine that God holds a carrot rather than a stick. Today, I’m sharing some of the more grace-filled understandings of Ash Wednesday I’ve found around and about the internet:

Joshua Adam Scott created an Ash Wednesday confession based on the idea of “living fully into our humanity”:

…many of the confessions that are available (to my knowledge) tend to be anti-human. They play into a negative and unhelpful theology that says being human is a bad thing. Yet, in the scriptures, God calls being human good! I’m more and more convinced that bad theology creates bad anthropology. When we misunderstand who we are, and how God sees us, that can lead to toxic theologies that don’t contribute to our healing, wholeness, and flourishing.  

Our problem isn’t that we are human; our problem is that, often, we treat one another in ways that are subhuman. Gossip, hate, greed, and all of the negative and painful ways we can live, aren’t examples of just “being human.” Instead, they are examples of things that happen when we live beneath our humanity. … I wanted to create a sense of acknowledging the ways we’ve lived sub-humanly, and then also opening ourselves to what could be, if we choose, with God’s help, to live into the fullness of our humanity.  

This prayer from The Awkward Season by Pamela Hawkins reminds us that Lent is about turning ourselves toward Love:

O GOD, who makes all things new,
new stars, new dust, new life;
take my heart, every hardened edge and measured beat,
and create something new in me.

(Click here to read the entire prayer)

Lastly, Jan Richardson has a lovely way of moving beyond shame for Ash Wednesday:

So let us be marked
not for sorrow.
And let us be marked
not for shame.
Let us be marked
not for false humility
or for thinking
we are less
than we are

but for claiming
what God can do
within the dust,
within the dirt,
within the stuff
of which the world
is made,
and the stars that blaze
in our bones,
and the galaxies that spiral
inside the smudge
we bear.

(read her full blessing here)

May love and grace greet you with ashes at the threshold of Lent,


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