Monthly Archives: February 2017

Ash Wednesday: Showered with Stars


“…For dust you are and to dust you will return.”—Genesis 3:19

Halfway through the line I almost lost it. Until that moment I’d been in a ritual groove, looking my parishioners in the eye, dusting them with ashes, calmly delivering the ancient admonition, “Remember, you are dust and to dust you will return.” One by one they came, listened, received. But halfway through I faltered.

It wasn’t that I suddenly realized the gravity of what I was telling them, that they were breathtakingly fragile, that at any moment they could dissolve into elemental bits, that someday they would. I’d been feeling the heft of that truth all evening.

So no, it wasn’t that I was giving them fatal news. It was that they wanted to hear it. It was that they’d lined up to hear it of their own free will. They knew exactly what the message was going to be, and still they inched their way towards the messenger.

My knees went wobbly as water. I wanted to wave them off, tell them they didn’t have to come, they could go sit down. But I knew no one would. That was the most stunning thing: even if I’d said it, I knew no one would.

So I regrouped, kept tracing charred crosses, kept saying the old words. And they kept coming, one after another, offering me their foreheads with the trust of a child.

And when I told them they would die, some nodded. Some said amen. Some even smiled; they said thank you, as if instead of sentencing them to death, I’d showered them with stars.


Holy One, may I live this Lent in bare truth, total trust, and knowing joy; for in life and in death I belong to you.











“They drove him to a hilltop, intending to hurl him off… But passing through the midst of them, he went on his way.”—Luke 4:28-30

At Jesus’ baptism, God discloses his identity: beloved Child. Later, in the wilderness, Jesus resists the temptation to be something else—showman, potentate, Satan’s son. Then he goes public, healing, and announcing God’s reign. The buzz grows.

In Nazareth, his neighbors ask him to preach. He starts with a portion of Isaiah: “God has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, freedom to the oppressed…” Then he says, “Today, in your hearing, this scripture is fulfilled.”

We could hear that line as a deep, solemn pronouncement, but I think it’s more giddy than grave; for nothing makes us happier than knowing who we truly are and what we’re meant to do. When he sees himself in Isaiah’s text, I think Jesus is struck with the joy of it, and the exhilarating truth just comes bursting out of him—“This is who I am!”

His neighbors aren’t as thrilled. After a tense exchange, they press him to the cliff. Then things turn mysterious: “But passing through the midst of them, he went on his way.”

I don’t know how he did that, but there’s something so spare and serene about that sentence that I think it has to do with being grounded in God, your identity, and your calling. Something to do with the lightness, the fearlessness inherent in being so grounded; the safe passage it grants you—not to avoid danger or suffering, but to go straight through it with your freedom intact, eyes on the prize, anchored in and lifted by the joy no mob can kill and no circumstance can alter.


Ground me in the knowledge of who I am and what I’m called to do; and in that grounding may I find joy and safe passage forever.