Yesterday I experienced my first Ash Wednesday Service at a little church in Little Rock. I knew no one there. I knew little to nothing about the denomination. I had never attended their church. I knew nothing about an Ash Wednesday Service. What???
I had been thinking about participating in Lent this year. One of the things I love most about IF:Gathering is how it is educating me about religions and denominations outside of my limited scope growing up. One thing I have learned is that I am not as knowledgeable about other denominations and religions as I thought. #humbling
I had been reading about lent for weeks and really felt God whispering to me, "This is for YOU." so I was planning on participating in some form. Then earlier this week someone posted an article about Baptists and lent and one of the people posting a comment mentioned Ash Wednesday services, and I asked the obvious, stupid question, "How do you find an Ash Wednesday Service" to which they kindly and graciously educated me in follow-up comments. So there I was at 8 a.m. on Ash Wednesday in my office googling for services.
SO...there I sat eight hours later in a beautiful chapel on the back pew feeling very, very small. I texted a couple of my mini-tribes like a little girl squealing, "You are NEVER going to believe where I am?! Pray for me." I then turned off my phone and absorbed EVERYTHING.
Let me just say that everyone there was more lovely to me than you could ever imagine. It was so obvious I was lost...with my doe eyes, waders up to my knees (snow day....and thank goodness I wasn't the only one), luggage (you know I came packing everything as I was coming from work), and of course I gravitated to the back-row (which got me a ribbing from one of the reverends). While speaking with me, they even made a point to let me know that I was welcome to participate in communion, which brought tears to my eyes (isn't that silly of me?).
What followed was a service like I have never experienced. It was intense, beautiful, orchestrated (I mean that in a good way), and it was humbling. Let me say this, all churches need knee benches. I think we all need to be on our knees more (preaching to myself here). The opening lesson was on Isaiah 58 which we all know I am completely obsessed with Isaiah so I felt immediately at home.
The sermon was on "Time" to which I felt myself slide down in my seat some. Haven't I been wrestling with that since the first of the year, through #restorationJanuary and this insane season I am in? I looked up and spoke to God, "I hear ya. I am in the exact spot you want me in right now. Got it."
"Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."
I don't know what to say about The Imposition of Ashes portion. There was this little girl about three in front of me through the service and then next to me during the ashes and communion. It was as if...
...let me be clear here....I am not saying that what I am experiencing is for everyone or right or wrong or preaching or anything...this is just the place where I am and my very transparent observations of it...
...it was as if I was seeing myself at three. She was with her father only. She was...a handful...but at the altar...she was near heavenly, and she would look up at me, and I swear she was winking at me. One of the reverends caught us both the first time and smiled so lovingly. I swear, I was in the middle of a film.
I have to say I loved everything about it...the prayers and readings, everything. I felt like I was being emotionally and spiritually prepared for the 40 days ahead. It was very beautiful (did I say that already?).
Communion was intense, and I had a hard time not breaking down. If you know me, you know that I have a real love and reverence for communion. I truly believe it is something that we should do weekly not because of a rule or a scripture (per se), but because it is good for our hearts. The way they handled communion was very sacred and it felt so much more personal than what I experience these days elsewhere.
Everyone prayed together after that, and it was so beautiful, I am including that prayer below:
"Eternal God, heavenly Father, you have graciously accepted us as living members of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ, and you have fed us with spiritual food in the Sacrament of his Body and Blood. Send us now into the world in peace, and grant us strength and courage to love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart; through Christ our Lord. Amen."
...and you exit in silence.
I walked straight to my car in awed silence with the biggest smile on my face. Someone could have hit me, and I am not sure I would have felt it. I am still struggling to find words, but I promised many that I would write about my experience so I am forcing myself to write this now (not my best work I am sure), but I am struggling with the words.
I will say this that the only experience that compares for me is the first time I went to church in Marmalade, Haiti. Just like there, you could feel the Holy Spirit thick in the air around you. I want more of THAT. Just like church in Haiti was terrifying the first time, so was this, but I think it is the stepping out of my spiritual comfort zone that is adding such great value to my walk with God. He is pushing me into these unknown spaces to show me something about him, something about others who believe in him, and in the end...something about myself. That is HOLY.
I ran into the restaurant downstairs (I know the owners well) to grab a snack on my way home, and they said what is that on your forehead. I had forgotten the ash cross. I got to sit with them and tell them all about it (they go to another church), and it was a pretty fascinating conversation. Then I started thinking about Ann Voskamp's words again about wearing the cross and how we don't do that. I am still tossing and turning on those thoughts, but it is worth noting that unlike other religions, we don't wear our faith outwardly which means we must really represent Jesus in our actions otherwise how are they to know??? Right??? I can feel more writing (even if just in my journals) about that...that is too deep for this morning after only one cup of coffee. :)
So....I am participating fully in lent this year, and I will do my best to document the next 40 days as best I can....this is a VERY busy season for me in other areas of my life, so I anticipate that God's timing is always perfect so this is going to be a cross between beautiful and brutal for me. ;)
So....what or where are some scary places that God is taking you? I know my IF:Tribe (local and all around the world) is experiencing a lot of this too in their own worlds post-IF (a few weeks ago). It seems to be a "thing" as God moves in all of our hearts in new and different ways.
I know this because I could never have imagined walking into an unknown church, alone, not knowing anything, and just saying, "Here I am Lord. Now what?" as I did last night. As I sat there (15 mins early and everything) in anticipation, my fear changed to giddiness, and I am not kidding...I thought about leaving a few times. It feels pretty amazing to be embracing the scary stuff and even funnier when people say that you are being brave. I guess I am, but it feels a lot more like obedience. The kind of obedience John Eldredge talks about in "Utter Relief of Holiness" where you long to do/be/act whatever it is....pretty intense stuff. So. Worth. It.
I hope you will step into the scary with God...the terror turns to wings of faith very quickly...Promise.
Sunshine Dreams to You ~ Today and Every Day! :)