(From Pastor Steve) Dear Grace Family: As we prepare to enter into the season of Lent, we don’t often associate Ash Wednesday with love. But, this year Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine’s Day.Bishop Dave Nagler wrote what I thought was a very thought provoking piece regarding this shared ‘holiday.’ So, in lieu of an article from me, I thought I’d share what the Bishop from Pacifica Synod wrote:
February 14, 2024, will hold two “holidays” that seem to be moving in opposite directions. Valentine’s Day is a Hallmark creation dedicated to expressions of love. Ash Wednesday is a time of remembering our finitude; that each of us and all whom we love are impermanent. On the surface these commemorations seem an odd pair. “Bring a date to church and get an ash cross from a person who reminds them that they are dust”. I would argue that if we go deeper, they are a perfect pairing.
An ancient symbol for impermanence in the Celtic tradition is the triskelion. It is a circle, sometimes depicted with three legs or waves chasing one another around in an endless cycle. It is meant as a reminder that Spring follows Winter, Winter follows, Fall, and Fall follows Summer. Times of scarcity follow times of abundance. Times of connection follow times of loneliness. It is an echo of Ecclesiastes 3 which sings, “To everything, there is a season and a time under Heaven.”
The key to living this fundamental reality in a spiritually heathy way is to not get overly attached to any season or any moment in your history. And yet, to celebrate its beauty to feel deeply and to not deny the power that a moment can have on us. It is a delicate dance between not distancing ourselves from what is happening in our lives, but also remembering that all things fade away. New things arrive daily.
Anyone or anything that we love does not truly belong to us. They are shooting stars that shine brilliantly and then are gone. When they go, they return to the Source; to God. We feel the weight of their empty space and grieve. We also know that this grieving will shape us into a form that will be new for us. The grief we feel is a mirror of the love we shared. The hollow ache is an echo of the heartfelt joy.
One year on Ash Wednesday, I invited the congregation I was serving to a different practice of the imposition of ashes. I traced the ashen cross on the forehead of the first person who came forward and proclaimed the truth, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Then this person turned and did the same to the next person in line. This sequence continued for the whole assembly. Tears flowed when husbands made a black cross on the forehead of their beloved spouses. Voices cracked when parents reminded children that they too would not live forever. As they say, it got real that day!
So, on February 14th we will bear witness to love and impermanence. Some of us will spend time with loved ones. Others will be alone. Some will go to church and receive a cross and a word of remembrance. Others will be unable to bear that this year. No matter what you choose, remember that you are loved in this impermanent form. Please consider a Lenten practice of telling someone that you love them everyday until Easter (and then beyond if it makes you and them happy!) And let us not cling to any season too tightly. Our fragile planet will do another lap around the sun. People will come into our lives and depart. All of it is held in Divine hands.
Peace and All Good,