The Cry Vol 17 No 1 . 8

Beauty for Ashes

I woke on Ash Wednesday not to the peaceful silence of the morning, but to the piercing drone of a fire alarm. Disoriented, I frantically ran around the house attempting to figure out exactly what was happening while my roommate dialed 911. The smoke I had inhaled during my sleep caught up with me, and in a moment, I could no longer breathe. I stumbled out of the house coughing, left to watch helplessly until the fire department arrived.

Later that morning, I found myself both grateful and overwhelmed. The fire that consumed my water heater and began to spread through the kitchen and back of my home had been contained. Refrains of luck, blessing and grace filled my head and my heart, knowing the number of things that could have gone far more wrong. Knowing that I could have slept right through the flames without second thought. Knowing that I once lived in an apartment for a year without any batteries in the fire alarms (ridiculously stupid, in hindsight). God’s provision and love felt equally if not more sticky and thick as the blanket of soot I was scrubbing off the walls.

In a moment of respite, I left the ashes of my home in search of the sacred ashes of penitence. It was, after all, Ash Wednesday. Kneeling at the altar I heard again those few words that I have time after time both said and received, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” This time I burst into tears, feeling the depth of my own fragility, and realizing yet again the despair of a world wrapped in the ashes of poverty and destruction. The words of Henri Nouwen’s Ash Wednesday prayer rang their own alarm:

“How often have I lived through these weeks without paying much attention to penance, fasting, and prayer? How often have I missed the spiritual fruits of the season without even being aware of it? But how can I ever really celebrate Easter without observing Lent? How can I rejoice fully in your Resurrection when I have avoided participating in your death?

Yes, Lord, I have to die–with you, through you, and in you–and thus become ready to recognize you when you appear to me in your Resurrection. There is so much in me that needs to die: false attachments, greed and anger, impatience and stinginess. I see clearly now how little I have died with you, really gone your way and been faithful to it. O Lord, make this Lenten season different from the other ones. Let me find you again. Amen.”

Participation in death really isn’t as glamorous as it can be made to sound. It stings your throat and chokes your lungs. It bruises and crucifies. Figuring out the way to the cross is the difficult challenge of being a Christian in the Western world today, where we are surrounded by temptations to love ourselves more than we love God and our neighbor.

But walking with Christ toward death is the only way we can fully participate in Resurrection. It is what brings about the intimacy of which this issue speaks. As one of our nine lifestyle celebrations, we celebrate intimacy with Jesus to be our highest calling and our created purpose. But we cannot know Christ apart from his sufferings. We cannot know Christ apart from building community, presence and love in places that other’s have left behind. We cannot know Christ apart from recognizing the brokenness in our own lives.

This is perhaps not what you would expect as a means of introduction. I’m new to these pages and imagined my first words would exuberantly express my gratitude at joining The Cry in this season. Though the gratitude remains, the very literal ashes in my life reflect for me the immense gravity of attempting to advocate for our friends, to amplify their voices in a world that insists it does not need to listen. Pouring (and for me, hours spent editing!) over The Cry is a task of prayer, one that draws me into the presence of God as manifest in our communities. This season, as we journey through Lent and Holy Week toward the Resurrection, I pray that this issue invites you to intimately examine your own life before God, and to open your heart to respond in new ways.
We are an Easter people, living in a Lenten world. May this small offering of ours in this season hold us all in the tension of suffering and joy, proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom to come while drawing all the more near to Christ among us. For He is the one who has promised that, in knowing ashes, we might then know beauty as well.

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One thought on “The Cry Vol 17 No 1 . 8

  1. Madri Spoelstra says:

    Dearest Amy

    Thank you so much for sharing this message, especially the reminder to crucify our “old selves”…Much love in Jesus Christ our Lord, and Saviour!

    – from South Africa (in desperate need of this message I may add)

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