The season of Lent opens with Ash Wednesday, a day full of symbolism and rich tradition. From worshippers foreheads marked with the sign of the cross drawn in ashes, to the sackcloth and ashes put on by the Israelites in times of deep distress and oppression.
The blackened remnants of a fire can offer us much to reflect on. This week we invite you to journey through the ashes, being open to both the sorrow and healing they can bring.
It is close at hand –
2 a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and blackness.
Like dawn spreading across the mountains
a large and mighty army comes,
such as never was in ancient times
nor ever will be in ages to come.
3 Before them fire devours,
behind them a flame blazes.
Before them the land is like the garden of Eden,
behind them, a desert waste –
nothing escapes them.
17 Let the priests, who minister before the Lord,
weep between the portico and the altar.
Let them say, ‘Spare your people, Lord.
Do not make your inheritance an object of scorn,
a byword among the nations.
Why should they say among the peoples,
‘‘Where is their God?”’
18 Then the Lord was jealous for his land
and took pity on his people.
23 Be glad, people of Zion,
rejoice in the Lord your God,
for he has given you the autumn rains
because he is faithful.
He sends you abundant showers,
both autumn and spring rains, as before.
24 The threshing-floors will be filled with grain;
the vats will overflow with new wine and oil.
25 ‘I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten –
the great locust and the young locust,
the other locusts and the locust swarm –
my great army that I sent among you.
We have all known burnings
Been scorched, razed, all but consumed
– Undone by the unimaginable.
Searing sharp fire flares
Rending heart from body, self from mind
Tearing past neat plans
To slap surrender on our brows.
Blackened, we sit in the ashes
Asking the questions we never needed to ask
Until now, letting charred certainty
Flake off in the wind.
But among the desolation there is hope;
Tender shoots pressing up through
Burned out branches
The old making way for the new.
And so we persist through the flames
Holding on as they blaze
Through our carefully built defences,
Persevering through the smoke
And waiting for the promised downpour
To turn all that was lost
Try making a simple fire etching with lemon juice and paper. Take your time and leave space to reflect as you create.
You will need:
For those in the flames –
In the place where nothing makes sense, this is a time to stop and breathe.
And if you are to know anything at all, perhaps it is to know you are being loved for your very existence, not for your conclusions or your contributions.
For a few moments be where you are, not looking forward or backward or thinking of answers, simply concentrate on the candlelight before you or on the art you are making.
For the recently scorched –
Give time to look around and gaze at the ashes.
What is it that you have lost? What are you grieving?
Acknowledge it to yourself and to God, the one who knows all about it and cares so readily for you.
What remains? What has he preserved through the fire? Can you see anything good buried under the dust?
For those glimpsing the signs of new growth –
In this time of fresh hope, which can feel fragile and tender, what is it you see pushing through the soil? What is God growing?
Thank him for these things, handing them to him as the Gardener, who fiercely protects these shoots and who nurtures and waters them into flourishing.