Let’s do lent, Bitches! I proclaimed as we threw open the doors of the Children’s Healing Center where we had met so as to walk over to the 7:20AM Ash Wednesday service. It sorta felt like the moment should have been in slow-mo, our fur coats and confident strides set like a scene from Bridesmaids.
We pitter-pattered across the winding parking lot that stood between us and the church walls.
What are you giving up? I inquired through huffs and puffs of exhale amidst the cold February air.
I don’t give up. I do. So I was thinking I’d try and maybe set up a 7:30AM coffee each morning with someone in my life. That I’d allow that hour to help me see and experience deeper love with my friends.
(OMG! Can we just say, Amanda FOR THE WIN! She’s always super shiney. And like gets it right every time. She always says I love you at night and I always reply I love you more-er but we both know that’s a lie because she just does love sooooo much better-er.)
What about you Melissa? I turned my head as if to further the inquiry.
Oh I don’t give up anything. I can’t. If I do, I’ll just NOT.
Melissa and I are kindred spirits like that. We give up the minute someone says, “chocolate anyone?” We’re so weak. Blessed are the weak or so it says, Melissa and I just own it fully and wholly. Bless us, oh Lord, for we are so damn weak.
Well, I’m giving up dying and going to choose life. I announced. Because really, the only reason I had asked them theirs was to for someone to ask me in return. And since they didn’t ask, I just jumped in with my proclamation.
Thing is, last year I gave up my marriage to God and what followed was a year of grief and loss like I've never known. So with Lent fast approaching this year I tried to figure what was mine to give up and after weighing lots of options, like chocolate and coffee and gossip magazines, I decided I'd give up dying and start living; pursuing life anywhere I can find it.
We joined the rest of the folks joining and assembling into a line to enter the church doors. I quickly remembered why I left the catholic church, they DON’T ALLOW COFFEE IN THEIR PEWS. I think it has something to do with fasting, like emptying yourself before receiving communion, or something like that. So with a coffee shop coffee in hand, I scrounged around looking for a garbage and finally found myself a little tiny squared black trash, and threw my sinny-filled cup, with a swish like that of a basketball free throw, into the bin.
I scurried my feet through the entrance to the sanctuary to catch up to where Amanda and Melissa had already found us seats. I half-ass kneeled. Literally. Because the woman in front of me was sitting and I always find that awkward about pews. That when one person sits and the other tries to kneel behind them it gets incredibly and awkwardly uncomfortable. The way I see it, you have a couple options in that moment, you can wrap your arms around that person giving them a stranger-danger-hug or you can place your hands over their eyes and play a game of Guess Who?
But it was early in the morning and I’m not always super peoply at the break of dawn and so I didn’t want to do either of those options and so I half-assed, which is, I half bent my knees, arching my back in this weird sort of bend attempt trying really hard not to make human touch with the puff of hair inches in front of me, and then put my ass to the pew, as a form of weight bearing the positioned stance.
I breathed a sigh of relief. I was there, ready for lent’s kick-off party.
I immediately looked up and there he was. Jesus. Hanging on a cross. I smiled at him. And then he did something that after years and years of staring up at that Jesus on a cross, he’s never done. He got off his cross and came down and gave me a hug. Then he went back up to hang on his cross.
It’s been over a decade since I’ve “been catholic” and I realized I forgot a lot of things. Like that whole sign of peace thing. It takes place in the middle of the service and it’s where everyone shakes hands and says “peace be with you” and “here’s all my flu germs.” I have a friend that thinks we should just all elbow bump our way through life in lieu of handshakes. It’s safer that way. Life is much safer when we love from afar. But here I was, trying to love up close and I FORGOT HOW TO do the sign of peace and so I turned around and THREW MY ARMS AROUND this older-ish woman who was NOT expecting a bear hug that early. She sort of let out a chuckle, a laugh that felt like I had squeezed it right out of her and it was similar to that of Mrs. Potts off Beauty and the Beast, both alarmed and charmed. I jumped back, in disbelief and threw out one hundred apologies for my inappropriate attempt at offering peace. She said she liked hugs. And there, I was reminded that the church is full of forgiving people.
Communion time came. I think that the church wants you cleansed of your sins before you receive Jesus. The fact that it’s been ten years since I took communion, the fact that I’m two week shy of a divorce I filed for and the fact that I cuss a little I wasn’t sure I was the best cleansed candidate but it sure made me a perfect candidate to taste and see that he is good. So I didn’t care, I marched myself up to God and I took him in, the wafer sliding down into my stomach to slosh around with my “butter bear latte.” a concoction of butterscotch, caramel, milk and like maaaaaybe some coffee. I always hide and slink down in my driver’s seat when I order my beverage of choice through the drive thru. I sort of turn my head as if to acknowledge Bella in the back seat like it’s for her. “uh hum, yeah, that’s right, I said: BUTTER. BEAR.”
As the body and blood of Jesus met my morning’s fuel, I realized I had failed in the fasting one hour before communion part of Catholicism. I was starting to doubt my salvation. But one thing I found I’m still really good at is, lifting the kneeler. I swear you lift the kneeler fifty seven and a half times during the catholic mass. Some use their hands, but I use my foot. With a swift little toe toss, like I’m throwing up a kick-stand of a bicycle, I heaved that kneeler up and down like I was born with a purpose. (Maybe salvation was still possible.)
Though I fumbled my way through being Catholic, it didn’t matter, the mass was perfect. One of the most beautiful depictions of Ash Wednesday I’ve ever experienced as the priest set ablaze ashes, which in Jesus times was a sign of war and rebellion. How quickly we burn relationships, he stated as we watched the fire burn – his words an invitation to own what we do and create in this world. That each moment we can step from death into a new life, a new home, a new workplace, a new community. That Jesus didn't come with swords and daggers but with grace and love. So we burn the former way, and we rub it all over our forehead so we remember. May we never forget.
And as the priest wrapped his little speech thing he said: The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is NEW life. I’ve always heard this verse with the word eternal used. But this morning, the priest said NEW. I clung tightly to these three letters as if I had just been given the greatest treasure in the whole world. One of my favorite lyrics to a song sings “a broken heart loves cradle is.” Today, my broken heart cradled NEW, and as I search out a season of new, of sunrises and new found hope, I cling to this: that which was former is no longer. I step into a new place of making life and beauty; out of ashes.
And maybe you get this. Maybe you want new life. Maybe you need ashes to remind you that there is a new way of seeing, of believing, of living. Maybe you need to take a step into a new world, a new place where hope and life are birthed.
Who is responsible for this new world, this new creation?
“Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.”
Let us lent.