Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Honoring Our Sacred Ashiness on Ash Wednesday

On Ash Wednesday we remember that we have come from ashes and we will return to ashes (Genesis 3:19). Seems kind of somber. But it can also be a time to honor our connection to the sacredness of ashes; sacredness of dirt; sacredness of earth. It's an occasion to remind ourselves of the connection we have with God's "very good" Creation (Genesis 1:31). And this world is not just "very good," but it's also made sacred because it's filled with the presence of God (Psalm 139:7-10). The early Celtic Christian forefather, Pelagius, writes powerfully about the sacredness of earth:
"Look at the animals roaming the forest: God’s spirit dwells within them. Look at the birds flying across the sky: God’s spirit dwells within them. Look at the tiny insects crawling in the grass: God’s spirit dwells within them. There is no creature on earth in whom God is absent...When God pronounced that his creation was good, it was not only that his hand had fashioned every creature; it was that his breath had brought every creature to life. Look too at the great trees of the forest; look at the wild flowers and the grass in the fields; look even at your crops. God’s spirit is present within all plants as well. The presence of God’s spirit in all living things is what makes them beautiful; and if we look with God’s eyes, nothing on the earth is ugly."
God makes the earth good, sacred, and beautiful. And as people who come from and live on the earth, we are reminded of our sacredness as part of God's sacred world. In fact, God's primal affirmation of humanity is that we are "made in the image of God" (Genesis 1:27). Our earliest and deepest identity is rooted in the original sacredness and goodness of our nature. So, Ash Wednesday invites us to remember our sacred nature and then repent, or turn, toward that true nature. That is the good news of Ash Wednesday. John Philip Newell describes the good news of this message well:
"I do not believe that the gospel, which literally means 'good news,' is given to tell us that we have failed or been false. That is not news, and it is not good. We already know much of that about ourselves. We know we have been false, even to those whom we most love in our lives and would most want to be true to. We know we have failed people and whole nations throughout the world today, who are suffering or who are subjected to terrible injustices that we could do more to prevent. So the gospel is not given to tell us what we already know. Rather, the gospel is given to tell us what we do not know or what we have forgotten, and that is who we are, sons and daughters of the One from whom all things come. It is when we begin to remember who we are, and who all people truly are, that we will begin to remember also what we should be doing and how we should be relating to one another as individuals and as nations and as an entire earth community."
Ash Wednesday affirms some important things. First, humanity's true nature is good because we are made in the image of God. Second, the earth is sacred because of God's presence within all of it. Finally, humanity comes from and is part of God's sacred earth. That is what we are reminded of on this day of ashes. We are ashy and earthy! And sacred. Our life is originated from and progressing toward the goodness, sacredness, and beauty of God's earth.

Carl McMolman emphasizes this understanding by saying: "Remember you are ashes, destined for Divinity."

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