A Sign of Life: Ash Wednesday

"Campfire" image courtesy of franky242 at FreeDigitalPhots.net
“Campfire” image courtesy of franky242 at FreeDigitalPhots.net

By Andrew Lazo

The sheer, enormous irony of Lent always strikes me. Did you know that the word that names our longest and most penitential season comes from the Old English for “lengthen”?

And so, once again, there go those Christians, denying themselves and carrying around in their bodies the death of Christ, even as the days at last grow longer, as the whole world around blooms into glorious life.

There they go, calling “Good” the day their God was hanged upon a tree until he was dead.

There they go, recoiling in horror as twenty-one of their brothers they have never met kneel on a beach and cry aloud with their last breath the name of the One who saved them.

There they go, turning the other cheek, praying for those who persecute them.

There they go, looking this fallen world full in the face, and then, resolutely, picking out plans and pulling out packets of seeds, planting another garden.

There they go, weeping through the night as if joy just may come in the morning.

There they go, not choosing not to be.

Because they do not hope to turn again, they hope. And turn again. Turning to tasks at hand that take a kind of defiant courage.

Sometimes such tasks seem very small, depending how you measure things: getting out of bed. Reaching for one more paper in a stack that will surely prove achingly bad. Writing one more page. Forgiving him. Forgiving him again. Biting tongues till they blister. Returning instead a soft answer that just might at last turn away wrath.

Several years ago, when I traveled around the country for a living, I thought to find an arrogant church, screaming slogans and judgment, self-absorbed and pleased.

I saw instead people sitting beside the beds of AIDS patients that even the gay community could no longer bear to look in the face.

I saw no mere mortals, no ordinary people, but folks nonetheless seemingly unremarkable, feeding the poor, one by one, and binding up the broken.

I saw (lurching together and picking up the pieces of all that gets broken) something like a body, trying again to extend mercy, holding out cups of cold water, a Name on their lips.

I saw people smudging ash on their foreheads, whispering “Amen” to the grim admonition that soon enough, too soon, we were doomed down to the dust and earth from which we were formed.

I saw signs of life. I saw evidence, and little doubt. I saw eyes aglow with glimpses of glory: a farflung sunrise, a Lion’s golden mane, a mariner return from sea, a stable door with more than a world inside it.

I’ve had my fill of death this last few years. In the news, in my own family, terrors on every side. News of another one, even just today.

But that’s not all. As I lean into Lent, I see more. I see you, trying again, calling on strength and healing you do not have, that somehow arrives right on time. Writing another page. Re-writing another page, and then all over again.  Blessing all the emptiness, and breathing little sparks to life. There you go again.

So I’ll let T. S. Eliot have this last word, save one.

From “Ash Wednesday“:

Because I know that time is always time
And place is always and only place
And what is actual is actual only for one time
And only for one place
I rejoice that things are as they are and
I renounce the blessed face
And renounce the voice
Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice

Yes. I rejoice, watching as you construct something upon which to rejoice. Keep on. Keep striking flint to stone and breathing sparks to light to shine for us all. When all around seems dark and dead, your little light shines out, and far beyond the good you think to do.

There you go again leaning in to life and spilling out signs of it all around you, filling us with hope to turn again.

There you go again.

Andrew Lazo is a teacher, writer, and sought-after speaker on C.S. Lewis and the Inklings. Read more from him at his website: http://andrewlazo.com


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