It's Ash Wednesday again. If you've been reading here for any amount of time, you'll know that I have very mixed feelings about Ash Wednesday.
Growing up in a non-traditional Christian church, we didn't observe Ash Wednesday or Lent. I learned about them as an adult, after my children were born; the three of us were all baptised together (Gregg was baptised as a child).
Katie's surgery to remove her tumor took place on Ash Wednesday (February 21-22, 2007). Since that surgery gave her a new chance at life, and hope for remission, it was a day of great expectation; however, since we were told in the middle of the night (about 16 hours into the surgery) that she was probably going to die before it was over, it became a horrible, nightmarish memory. Yet, Katie lived, and was able to recover enough to go home to live with us, to finish 6th grade, attend Camp Goodtimes West and be a bridesmaid in her cousin's wedding...so the Ash Wednesday surgery did give her a few months of "new life," - just not the hoped-for remission.
I will not be wearing ashes today; I've had enough of ashes, for a long time.
Today, I read this passage in Richard Rohr's book, Radical Grace (p. 82):
"Augustine said that if we discover hope, hope will have two lovely daughters: anger and courage. But many of us, like good German Catholic boys raised in Kansas, were told that anger was a bad emotion.
"Nothing would happen on this earth if people didn't get angry. Nothing would change. Anger is often good and necessary.
"Anger, like hope, is part of the passion of God. It's part of God's feeling for what is not and should be, and could be if only someone would be willing to carry God's feeling. Anger is often a form of grieving for the good things that have been allowed to die.
"Hope leads us, after the anger, to courage. Courage literally means an action of the heart. With courage we finally trust some of those fierce feelings, our sense of that wild God. Then we can lay our life down in servanthood for the places where things aren't right, where God's people are being told lies and being oppressed.
"The problem with passion isn't that we desire too much, in spite of what the moralists used to tell us. The real problem is that we don't desire enough! We are the desiring of God."
So out of our heartbreak that Katie and so many other children have died, out of our anger at the disappointments in life, out of our many hurts and personal failings, can arise the deep desire to make a better world. And with that desire comes courage, perhaps from the very heart of God.
Which brings me to what Wintley Phipps, the Gospel singer, said in this clip:
"It is in the quiet crucible of our personal, private sufferings that our noblest dreams are born, and God's greatest gifts are given, - often in compensation for what we've been through."
I pray that on this Ash Wednesday, God's greatest gifts will be apparent to you, in your life.