A Reflection on Smoke and Shadows
(A meditation initially composed on Ash Wednesday, 2019 - updated in February 2020)
"Who will offer the dance of their
as a creation of devotion
Only those who have come through
and walk now in the Light
can offer their lives in service
to build the new world,
where justice and freedom
will truly flourish.” (p. 220)
Ash Wednesday is a special day held sacred by many branches of the Christ Tree. It is particularly poignant for fellowships like ours which observe the seasonal structure known as the Liturgical Year. You may notice people wearing the sign of the cross, marked in ashes on their foreheads as you move throughout your day this coming Wednesday, which marks the beginning of the season we call "Lent".
On this day, faithful followers gather to humble themselves and pray. They recognize their shortcomings and faults, acknowledging out-loud, or in their hearts, that they are in need of help, guidance and forgiveness. Ash Wednesday is a time to make amends with our Creator and with one another -- a time to release self-doubt and the judgments of all who are labeled "other". Fears, anger, doubts, darkness, shadow, hatred, betrayal, injustice – nothing is held back from the Holy Fire burning in the central chalice or sacred hearth.
Candles are lit. Palm branches are burned. Papers holding signs, symbols and prayers of release are placed in the fire. Transformation becomes visible. Incense fills the air.
A minister, lay or ordained, reaches their hands into the ashes of all that has been released. Those ashes are mixed with a small bit of purifying olive oil and smeared on the foreheads of the congregation. All who gather remember together: from dust we were formed, and to dust we shall return. We are all mortals, after all – as humans in this world, we are fully connected with our Creator and with All the Creatures of Earth.
“Awaken, all you who are yet asleep,
let us plant seeds for the
commingling of heaven
For the Energy of Love radiates in
receptive hearts are purified
by its Fire.” (p. 220)
Quiet songs are chanted over those who have gathered. Lights are dimmed. An ember from the central fire flutters into the air, releasing a last bit of light before turning to ash and landing on the minister’s head. The minister, too, receives a cleansing.
A moment of silence is held. The minister raises their hands, connecting their body with heaven and earth. In that sacred moment, they become a conduit of Divine Healing.
Something shifts palpably in the room. Hairs stand on end. Vibrations are raised. Cells and sinews are awakened by the Sacred Mystery.
Acquittal is declared. The cleansing is complete. Everyone takes a deep breath. The people are called to walk in Love as they enter the season of Lent which leads towards Holy Week.
The season of Lent is a time of great humility, soul-searching, fasting and prayer. Congregants are encouraged to be of service in their community – fighting injustice, serving the poor, tending the sick, visiting the elders, comforting the grieving, tending the earth, giving to those in need and planting seeds of love in the world.
Lent is a holy time, a time of action, of looking into one’s own shadow, embracing one’s limitations and mortality, and doing one’s best to live in a way that is fully connected – with our Creator, with our fellow humans and with all of the creatures of Mother Earth. As with the season of Advent, it is a time of entering the shadow. In the midst of the sacred smoke that rises, a longing is present. There is a yearning for the fullness of healing that has been uttered by the prophets throughout the ages – when a joyful unity will prevail, and the fullness of creation will become aware of their place in the Sacred Heart of Divine Love.
Do you not know your destiny is
to be a light unto the world,
a bearer of peace and harmony?
O let your light shine as a very ray
of the Radiant One’s own Light!
And know yourself! Let your aim be
to recognize who you are.
Aspire to live as sons and daughters
of Divine Love,
to enshrine the earth with
to honor all relationships as sacred, and
to live in peace and in balance with
all living things.
Acknowledge the sacredness of
albeit different from your own;
In this way you honor the Great Mystery
and the wonder of all life! (p. 218)
All photos taken by Trista L. Wynne
Quotes from Psalms for Praying: An Invitation to Wholeness - by Nan C Merrill (Bloomsbury, 2007)
+++ Please join us this Wednesday, for a service of healing and renewal. Ash Wednesday services will be offered in the Gresham UMC sanctuary at 12 noon and at 6:30 pm. For all of our services and ministries, in the Body of Christ, All are Welcome. +++