ash wednesday

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us..."  + Hebrews 12:1 

A month after September 11, my husband met with a pastor from a New York City church near the World Trade Center.  She shared the overwhelming task of listening to people who mourned for all those who were missing, all those whose bodies would never be found.  She spoke of the dense smoke and ash, the smell and dust that still lingered.  “When we walk to work, to home, to school, we are walking through the dust and ash of the bodies of the missing.  Their remains are literally in the air. We are walking around with the dead on us.”

It was overwhelming: the pervasiveness, the every-where-ness of the loss. 

But there was a power in it too.  The power at the heart of our faith, from All Saints Day to Ash Wednesday.  Those who have gone before us: parents, prophets, firefighters - they are not just in our thoughts, tucked away in our memories.  They are on us, surrounding us, a cloud of witnesses.

We come into this season deeply aware of the places that still smolder in our lives and our world.  With the smudge of ash on our foreheads, we need strength for the journey. 

Try this: set your dinner table with a Lenten centerpiece - a cross, a candle, and a picture of a saint who inspires.  Add more pictures as the season goes along.  Then lift your head, square your shoulders, and walk in the faith of those who have gone before.  They are the very air we breathe.

Loving God, for the saints who inspire us to love with risk and freedom and joy, we give you thanks. Amen. 


Thanks to Holly McKissick for her courageous words (check out her Fellowship of Prayer, published by Chalice Press).  And, thanks to Sarah Korf for this soft, intimate, and penitential picture.