Thursday, March 2, 2017

Ash Wednesday 2017

I must return to blogging during Lent.

It appears that this blog provides a time of reflection.

Last year, I was looking for renewal, a glimpse of God when I cleaned the church.
This year, I found myself back at Ktizo United Church of Christ. Only this time, I was rehearsing a script to read to people who might take advantage of our drive-through Ash Wednesday. Get Your Ash in Here was the invitation. I set up the card table covered in a gold dining table cloth, carried out the bowl of ashes from last year's Palm Sunday burned frond crosses mixed with olive oil, a stack of Ktizo brochures, some rocks with words like "peace," "joy," "love," written on them, and copies of the brief script to read when we marked black ash crosses on people's foreheads.

We are an urban church, which means we have a family of three who sometimes parks their white mini van in our parking lot. Dave, the dad, has joined our church. His wife Cheryl is just two years on the other side of chemotherapy that left her with neuropathy and an unsteady gait. Their 20-year-old son Jonathan can't find a job although he graduated from Cortez High School.  I can't remember why they are forced to live in their van and not in the apartment across the street that they once called home. They are not alcoholics, or addicts, or mentally ill. They simply found themselves with no jobs, cancer, disabilities that keep them from working and a car that they now call home.  Ktizo is one of their bases. Dave offers to help landscape, weed, carry out the trash and on this morning google "lent" to remind me what it means. He declines my offer to put the ash cross on his forehead. But Cheryl happily accepts. So does Jonathan. I dip my finger in the bowl of black ashes and oil and repeat that the crosses I'm marking on their foreheads are reminders that our lives are gifts and that Christ calls us to live as we were created to be: people of love, of justice, of peace and of forgiveness. I added "forgiveness."  And to go in peace.

Dave reluctantly comes forward at the end of my hour and I put the ash smudge on his forehead hoping he hears the words that he is a gift.

I am standing in the parking lot of a church on 35th Avenue in Phoenix, Az., where several homeless people come to charge their cell phones, use the bathroom, talk to Pastor Ted, sleep under the porch when it rains and stash their shopping carts of plastic bags, jugs of water, blankets and the other things they haul around to give them some protection against sun, rain, cold and hunger. Some of those people have joined our church.  Some will stop by the card table and hear these words and leave with this sign of God's love and the beginning of this Lenten season on their foreheads.

Later, as the sun sets and a slim crescent of moon appears, we enter the chapel of Pinnacle Presbyterian Church in north Scottsdale. Mack is singing as part of the children's choir performing in that church's Ash Wednesday service. This is a wealthy congregation. This campus is a far cry from the worn, disheveled building that houses Ktizo. Here there is an altar, pews, a pipe organ, a grand piano, a huge stained glass window. This isn't a card table in the middle of a parking lot.

The 45-minute service includes hymns, voices filling the chapel and two sopranos whose exquisite voices soar above the congregation in breathtaking beauty.  Children squirm, hungry and tired at the end of a day. And then they come forward and sing in their lovely, clear, sweet voices.  Once again, I find myself leaning forward to have the sign of the cross put on my forehead, the one from the morning long since worn off.  This is the third time in my 67 years that I have attended an Ash Wednesday service and the only time I've had two black smudges on my forehead in one day.

I can't believe the richness of the day. The beginning of 40 days that my friend Margot (margotruminates is the name of her blog) reminds all of us isn't as much about what you give up or discipline yourself to do as it is about seeking God and finding He's all around. In parking lots, mini vans, and chapels.