It was three years ago when I started blogging on Ash Wednesday. As I’ve learned, no matter how much of a “planner” I am, my discipline for the Lenten season does not really emerge until I stand in that space where I drop my ego, open my heart and I remember that I am dust, and to dust I shall return. I usually have some sense of an intention welling up in my soul: for balance, for prayer, for stillness, for discernment. The details of my Lenten journey seem to await my yearly cracking open, the Lenten sledgehammer of powdery dust breaking through the comfortable routines of ordinary days and ordinary time.
This particular lent offers me a bridge. When the next 40 days comes to a close, I will have wrapped up the transformative but intense chaplaincy internship which has offered so much growth, but has come at the cost of already precious time. I feel the toll on my family, my work, my sleep and my self-care. My path this Lent asks me to feel both the cost and the gain as parallel processes on my journey of formation. This particular Lent is also a wilderness. On Sunday, I lovingly set forth from my safe and welcoming community of faith to open my eyes to where I am being called for the next steps in my formation. I go in love, and with love, and in search of love. But it is still a wilderness.
My intention today was to discern and pray, and I found myself at Richmond Hill, my favorite space to do those things. My eyes began to well up as we prayed for the brokenness of our city’s heritage, the legacy of oppression and the slave trade still rippling into our relationships, politics, and everyday life. It was the strong hands of an African-American clergy leader that pressed the cross to my forehead and reminded me of the dust of our common humanity. I need that touch…her touch, God’s touch, the touch of the cross against my skin to land me squarely into the Holy. This space and intentionality of prayer is what I knew I would be taking on during the season.
But what would I give up?
That answer came later in my day, after multiple conversations and side glances at the ashen cross marking my face. It came in the midst of unintentional pilgrimage, a trip with my students to the empty former parking lot where we have come to know that unmarked graves of African slaves lie beneath. Last spring, a community group successfully petitioned for its recognition as a holy park, and a deserving sacred space. The plan had vision, but not a good flow of funding. So, it is still a vacant field, except for the love shown by community members doing what they could with the resources available. A laminated sign describing the efforts to remember and reconcile hung limply off a mark-shift plywood. The space…practically unfindable if one is not looking..was palpable with pain, sadness, and anger.
I walked to the sign where one of my students was attempting to hang it back up. She couldn’t find the tacks that once held it to the board. As suddenly as I walked to assist, I found myself removing a vintage broach from my coat. I stabbed the sharp stick from the pin-back into the press-board. And I heard the words, “Give it up…”
And so it is that I came to realize this will be 40 days in the wilderness of prayer and devotion, being led daily to what I will give up. I will say Yes if it’s a vintage pin, or a donation, and I will say Yes even if it hurts, even if it burns me with my own need for control or desire for safety. I lack the time to write daily, although words may come from time to time. But, there will be a place and time to experience the small points of light that emerge when giving it up in gratitude and love, and experiencing the small but significant sacraments of the daily ordinary that await. Each day I will ask, “What can I give up?” And, rest assured, I know the rest will follow.
For today, the broach on my jacket was given up and went on to a new life so others could see and read a message of hope, remembrance and reconciliation.
More reflections to come as these 40 days unfold, as I lean into what I am asked to give up and see with new eyes what new life emerges.