I went to church at noon today. Left email unread and a list of things to do mostly still to do. I was feeling pretty out of sorts, to be honest. Tired, in the bone-deep way that only emotional and spiritual exhaustion bring. I have a good life. An amazing life, even. And – and, I have so much baggage that keeps following me around. Some of it can’t be classified as baggage, really, more just the real-life messiness of a divorce involving a shared child. But some of it is simply baggage. Stuff that needs to be ground into dust, let go of, forgiven.
So I went to church, in the middle of the day. To be embraced by the liturgy, to acknowledge with others the depth of our need for repentance, to be reminded of our mortality, to be assured of our forgiveness for all that has been done and left undone that turned away from Life. I listened to ancient, prophetic words. I heard the good news. I took the torn bread and poured out cup into my own human brokenness. And I got marked. Marked with the sign of the cross - smeared in black, oily ashes on my forehead. Somewhere, in the midst of the liturgy, the spoken word, the sung prayers, smeared crosses and broken bread, I became a little more whole. Let go of a bit more baggage.
The cross on my forehead has nearly faded away now, 8 hours later. Sweat, distracted scratching, time…the ashes are barely noticeable. It reminds me some of what is happening with a tattoo on my back, a mark made 15 years ago now. That mark, over time, is also fading. It was – and is – a mark I’ve cherished, both at its most vibrant and now as it fades more and more into my body. The ashes and that tattoo: both are symbols of the very core of who I am. Identities that matter, yes. And identities that simply are solid and whole and me: claiming me from the inside out as one who loves, one who is forgiven, one who is marked for Life.
“ Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?” –Isaiah 58:6-7
This season, these weeks of Lent, may I remember the core of why it is I choose to seek this fast.