Wednesday is Ash Wednesday and many of us will go to church to be anointed with ashes. This year it seems this practice has added significance as we already feel we have ashes not just on our foreheads, but in our mouths. To the lament of COVID, economic injustice, and climate change, we have added the ashes of war in Ukraine. It is a difficult time and we all feel a heavy weight as we head into Lent.
Ash Wednesday ashes were traditionally made by burning the Palm Sunday palms from the year before, and I loved to collect a few palms, allow them to dry out over the year and then burn them for my own personal Ash Wednesday observance. However, last year you may remember, I didn’t have any palms so I burned one of my out-of-date masks instead. It wasn’t done as a protest against mask mandates or because I didn’t intend to wear masks again, even though at that point we thought that mask-wearing would soon be over. It was done in gratitude for the protection that these masks gave me from the virus.
This year as we enter the third year of mask-wearing I am burning one of my masks again. I am so grateful for the protection these masks give me, and though their impact palls into insignificance compared to that of the importance of the crosses of Palm Sunday, they are a symbol that all of us are familiar with these days. They are a symbol we can all identify with, and they are a sign of God’s protection around us and of the hope God gives us in the midst of all kinds of tragedies.
This year, I am not just burning my mask. I am using it as a token of transformation, a way to remind myself and those around me that the journey of Lent is preparing us for the beauty of Easter Sunday. And entering that beauty of the resurrection is only possible because of God’s surrounding mask-like presence.
So how will I accomplish this? This year, by creating artwork from the ashes. I found this simple recipe for paint made from ashes which you might like to experiment with, and planned to use it as my painting medium, but ended up using it more as a medium for calligraphy where I wrote the word beauty, outlined it with glue and then sprinkled the ashes on it to create the image below. At the retreat on Saturday I added the outlines to each of the letters and reflected on the ways that beauty continues to change. Now let me assure you I am not an artist, but as John O’Donohue reminds us in his book Beauty “If our style of looking becomes beautiful, then beauty will become visible and shine forth for us. We will be surprised to discover beauty in unexpected places where the ungraceful eye would never linger.” (P19) So what I hope my journey through Lent will teach me is to look at my artwork with a graceful eye that sees beauty not just in my lettering, but hidden secretly in everything I see around me and maybe I will continue to add more beauty to the lettering I created.
At the Finding Beauty in the Ashes of Lent retreat on Saturday Lilly Lewin introduced us to another practice that is a great one for Lent. Get some different coloured sheets of paper, then spend time reflecting on the things you are grieving. Write each one on a different coloured piece of paper. Read Isaiah 61, preferably in The Message translation which tells us that God promises “to care for the needs of all who mourn in Zion, and give them bouquets of roses instead of ashes” Now draw a simple sketch of a garment, cut your paper into strips and paste them on, making a multi-colored coat which you can use as a focus for your prayers throughout Lent – making something beautiful from the ashes of Lent.
If you are more artistic or like collage, you might like to paint over your garment and end up with a collage, like this instead. The image becomes your reminder of God’s ability to transform ashes into beauty.
You might also like to go out and buy yourself a rose or two, or even a whole bouquet as Lilly suggested in her Freerange Friday a couple of weeks ago! Let these roses be a reminder throughout Lent of the great love and hope of Jesus! Let them be a reminder that Jesus can turn even ashes into things of beauty for each of us!
Last but not least inspired by John O’Donohue’s interview on Krista Tippet’s podcast On Being, I wrote the poem below. There are so many different ways for us to express our imaginations and create graphic symbols that speak to us in both words and pictures. These symbols help us anchor our souls in the challenging journeys we are embarking on so I hope that you will take time to create your own Ashes into Beauty images in the medium you feel most comfortable with and let us journey together through Lent to a new way of looking so that we see the beauty shining forth.
Rise From the Ashes
It is strange to be here,
In the presence of the God of life,
The Holy One
Within, without, wondrously all around.
It is strange to be here,
Helping to shape the world
With our God given imaginations,
Holding onto beauty
In all things and at every moment.
Mystery, delight, wonder,
Rise from the ashes.
They never leave us,
When we always keep
Something beautiful in our minds.
(c) Christine Sine
Inspired by John O’Donohue and Blasé Pascal
Join Christine Sine and Lilly Lewin on Wednesday, March 23rd 2022 at 9 am PT (check my timezone) for our next FB Live happening on our Godspace Light Community Facebook Group! Can’t make it? No worries–we upload the sessions on our youtube channel so you can still enjoy the lively discussions and interesting topics. And catch us live for the next session–happening here!