the penny that blocks the sun: thoughts on ash wednesday


Tonight I'll be going to the small Episcopal church here in my San Francisco neighborhood to commemorate Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. As usual, as I contemplate what it means to follow Jesus in this current season of the liturgical calendar, and in the current season of my life, I'm filled with many more questions than answers.

How do we translate words spoken in 30 A.D. into 2017 A.D.?

How do I close the distance between who I am now and who Divine Love says I can and should be?

What closes me off, weighs me down, blinds my sight and trips me up?

And, the question I'm asking today is, What can I practice during the next forty days to let these answers bring me closer to Truth?

I first had ashes wiped on my forehead five years ago.  I stood with my head bowed at the front of a candlelit sanctuary while a  fellow congregant dipped his thumb in a shallow silver bowl and whispered these hushed words as he formed a cross on my forehead:

From dust you have come,

To dust you shall return.

Turn from your sins

And be faithful to Christ.

As I think about those words this morning, and anticipate hearing those words this evening, I wonder what they really mean.

I get the first part -- I reckoned with my mortality in my 20's, when I nearly died after breast cancer. And I practice medicine, where I've witnessed my patients' mortality as well.

But turning and being faithful.  What does that look like for me, for us, over the next 40 days?

I live in a house with members of an intentional Christian community called Church of the Sojourners, which was founded by Jack Bernard, his wife Edith, and another couple.

Jack, who passed away in 2002, wrote a book called How To Become A Saint: A Beginner's Guide.  It was on the bookshelf of the room I moved into in August, and I finally started reading it recently.  It's part self-confession, and part spiritual direction.

One of my favorite parts so far is when Jack says,

My personal history is one of years of riding the roller coaster of reaching for sainthood and then falling away to the point of despair over my simple inability to keep focused on Jesus....The stumbling block for me has never been the fear of some heroic deed that might be required of me but simple distraction by other how holding a penny in front of one's eye can block out the sun.

So this morning as I'm sitting in silence and contemplation, I think what it means to practice Lent, to practice turning, is maybe not as massive as traveling to the sun to see it better.

It's as simple as forsaking the distractions that keep us from looking up.

It's removing the penny that darkens our vision and blocks out the sun -- so we can bask in an infinite wealth of Light.

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