Into the Desert
A Reflection on Ash Wednesday
Suddenly it's Lent again, and I find myself standing at the edge of a vast expanse of desert. Jesus has marked me with an ashen cross--to remind me who I am and whose I am--and now he beckons, calling me to follow him into the wide. As the last alleluia fades and the journey stretches out before me, I realize all over again how small I am and how fleeting my footprints are. There's nothing like facing the wasteland with dirt on your forehead to remind you where you've come from and where you're going. With this in mind, I reach out and clutch his hand. Without it, that dirt has the last word. And so we begin the trek, dust and glory hand-in-hand, across the desert toward Calvary. He asks me to release the things that tie me to this temporary world, gently reminding me that it will make the journey up the last hill a little lighter. It's still far off, but I see it looming over the parched horizon and I know he's right.
As we fall into the first few steps, familiarity arrives. We both know how this story goes, yet he writes it again, year after year. After staggering through this desert, falling asleep in a dark garden, and averting my eyes as the last nail is pounded in, he will look down at me with tenderness. He will utter unthinkable forgiveness, and my wretched heart will once again break under the torrent of mercy-unleashed. Every time for all of time, until this story ends and the endless one begins, he allows himself to be tempted and tried and nailed to make up for my stumbling and sleeping and hiding. Thank God for a God who breaks more deeply into our souls each season. Thank God for these liturgical rhythms that slowly tune our out-of-whack hearts to their highest pitch.