I closed my eyes as she dipped her finger in the ash and oil and, as I felt the shape of the cross being drawn on my forehead, I relaxed. It’s the same feeling every year for me. I relax. For at least a moment or two, I relax.
The temptation is to make Lent into some sort of meditation on failure and sin. I was having a quick conversation about my dirty forehead with a couple of folks. I’d moved beyond relaxing and was back into a rushing around mode. I made a sideways attempt at humor along the lines of “Yep, I’m a sinner” as I was walking away and, as I was walking away, one of the folks said something along the lines of “Not sin. Mortality.”
There is something about being reminded what we’re made of and what we return to that quiets all the internal and external voices that say we “should” do this or “must” do that. This reminder of mortality isn’t a heavy voice of doom and gloom but a whisper in the ear that says, “Remember, beloved, you are mortal.” It’s such an easy thing to forget.
We seem to fluctuate further and further along a spectrum of with expecting everything from each other at one end and expecting nothing at the other. We shame those who fail to live up to the expectations that increase with each success and treat failure as the irredeemable, permanent condition of others. We make some into our own idealized or flawed image and praise or abandon them accordingly.
And then, along comes Lent who looks us in the eye, smiles and says, “How about you go ahead and set that all aside for, at least, awhile?”
We are human; nothing more, nothing less. We will not get everything done we AND do more than we knew we could. We let people down while doing our best AND help others out in ways that surprise us. We will be afraid AND we will show courage. We will get stuck AND know liberation. We will hurt people AND participate in healing. We can’t help it. Sure, there is a lot in our control but we are not gods. We are blessedly and painfully human.
Our churches don’t help escape this reality but are a reflection of it. In Mark, Jesus quotes scripture while purging the moneychangers out of the temple saying "My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations'? But you have made it a den of robbers." Both are always in church and each of us brings it; all the sacred aspirations and the unholy temptations rolled into one place. Just as it should be.
Lent leans in and whispers, “You all need each other. You need God. You need honesty. You need forgiveness. You need accountability. You need support. You need love. And, beloved, none of this makes you needy. It makes you human. It makes you whole.”
Lean forward with that dirty, ashy forehead. God loves you. You are human and God loves you. You are mortal and God loves you. You are broken and God loves you. You are whole and God loves you. When you fail, God loves you. When you get up, God loves you. God sees you and sees beauty. God loves you.
A blessed, blessed Lent to you, God’s beloved...