Adrift on Ash Wednesday

There are times in a Christian's life when we're adrift—between projects, between homes, between jobs, between relationships. But there is no greater feeling of being unmoored than when we are between churches. Because for whatever reason, there are truly times when we are without a faith community.

I am currently experiencing such a time. And I know it's not exactly true that I am without a faith community, for I feel tied very strongly to two such communities right now: the one I just left, and the one I'm on my way to serving. The people of the church in Huntsville were extremely loving and gracious in our leave-taking, and the people of the church in Chardon are just as loving and just as gracious in their promises of welcome.

But on a day such as today—Ash Wednesday—I cannot help but feel a certain vacancy in my life knowing that I shouldn't attend worship in my most recent church, and that I'm too far away to attend worship in the one I'll begin serving later this month. And so I attended the noon service at a church that is not my own. I knew the clergy, but I was still a stranger there, and their worship—though very traditional—was nonetheless unfamiliar to me.

And yet the aspects that were familiar anchored me to a place in the ancient practices of the body of Christ, and even more importantly, in the word of God. I heard the words of the prophet,
Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart... rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing. (Joel 2:12-13)
...the instructive words of the apostle,
See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! (2 Cor. 6:2)
...and the saving words of Jesus,
where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matt. 6:21).
As my preparations for Easter began, I prayed the words of the 51st Psalm,
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me (v. 10).
and I received the bread of heaven and the cup of salvation.

But the real lifeline (and I hope the nautical theme isn't played out by now) was the reminder that my life is not my own. It is a gift of God, and that someday—maybe tonight, maybe in twenty or thirty or forty years—I will return to the dust from whence I was created.

The preacher at today's service reminded me of something that I myself say about once a year—usually around the time we celebrate the Ascension—and that's that in Christ, the dust to which we return is not just the dust of the earth, for those elements are also present in the stars. Ash Wednesday is a reminder that we are rooted in the incarnation and set free by the resurrection; that we came from the dust of the earth and will return to dust—but that that dust is as at home in the entrails of a distant star as it is familiar to this planet.

And so I may be between churches right now, but I am never outside the body of Christ—a body which is both earthly and cosmic, and which binds us together even as it sends us out into the world to discover in the face of a stranger a brother or sister and a fellow child of God.

"Remember that you are dust," a deacon told me today, "and to dust you will return." I am thankful for the faith that finds hope in those words and not dejection; the end of an old life and beginning of a new one.