Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ash Wednesday

"Every chance we take to seek and receive the grace of God is another opportunity to show our gratitude for the gift of salvation." - From "Daily Bread,"

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 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.


Allegra Smith said...

Oh dear Karen, your comment about having ashes brought tears to my eyes, truly. I read before about your ashes and cried then. I also lost two children, one at birth and the other before it was born. They are I guess my spirit ashes, and so I understand your pain, even tho I wouldn't dare to compare it.

I wish I could go with you for a walk, just quiet, two humans holding each other in the sacred space that true friendship is. Be well, you are truly appreciated here.

Dawn ~ BJSMomma said...

Brandon and I were also in the hospital on the Ash Wednesday of the year of transplant. We had just found out that they were looking for a "live donor". So yeah, I know what you mean about Ash Wednesday. I do try to keep this scripture close to heart. It meant so much to me in the past, and God returned that specialness to my heart (after my 2 years of fits) and even now when I am struggling.

~ Isaiah 61:3:

To all who mourn in Israel,
he will give a crown of beauty for ashes,
a joyous blessing instead of mourning,
festive praise instead of despair.
In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks
that the Lord has planted for his own glory.

Praying for you during this time, and the upcoming flood of memories!


deb said...

I so hoped you would have something to share today.
I never expected this. This connection to today.

What beautiful words you shared. How gently you show your heart. Give to others.

I am going through something, and today is very significant to me for that reason, and these thoughts were such a gift.
thank you

Karen said...

WOW! Inspired! Thank you so much for that. I feel stronger, better, more hopeful after reading it. Thank you, Karen. You shine a great light.

Busy Bee Suz said...

**hugs to you and your family**

karen gerstenberger said...

Allegra, I'm so sorry for your losses. I didn't know. You were with me on my walk today; it was sunny and beautiful.

Dawn, thank you for that scripture. It's a beautiful promise.

deb, I pray with you, for whatever you need.

Karen & Suz, you both know you have my love.

Meril said...

Having similar struggles with Ash Wednesday, as you may well imagine, - I was given this blessing instead one year, and have carried this instead:

"Remember that you are part of God's holy earth - one with God ion brokenness and blessing."

I'm off to sing (Taize style) - thinking of you........

Elizabeth said...

I have not yet read Radical Grace but am in the middle of his newest book and finding it amazing. The sentence that you quoted about hope's daughters being anger and courage is a profound one to me and something that I've never, ever thought about before but which resonates at my heart's core. Thank you for this moving post, for your hope, for your anger, for your courage. Thank you.

Gannet Girl said...

Karen, I did leave a comment here -- sometimes on blogs where moderation is enabled, the comments do vanish. Anyway, all it said was something about my experience being similar -- I wrote in Desert Year last Lent about the trauma of getting to the Ash Wednesday service and realizing that I wanted nothing to do with those ashes because I have some in my house.

Gannet Girl said...

Oh, and one other thing. There is an article in the new issue of America magazine in which a woman writes about the peace in the relationship of her experiences with her recently deceased mother's ashes and her Ash Wednesday ashes. Quite a lovely article, but also a reminder of how different it is when the death is completely out of order and involves the death of all the dreams and hopes associated with a child as well.

Angie Muresan said...

Karen, words fail me. I am so very sorry for the loss of your daughter. As a mother I cannot imagine anything worse. I pray for peace and comfort for you.

Stephanie said...

Moving post, as so many of yours are -- raw, powerful, a consecration of word and emotion --- who needs ashes when you have that.

with admiration, (and yes, anger and courage)