I want to tell you a story.
About this time of year, soon into our marriage, Derek’s grandfather had a risky surgery. We sat at the hospital surrounded by his extended family, talking about old memories as we so often do in times as such. I noticed grandma’s gray streak on her forehead. Being raised in a baptist church, I was extremely naive about these things and didn’t realize it was Ash Wednesday, thus the explanation for the gray smudge on a time worn face.
Feeling bold, as I sometimes can be accused of, I made grandma aware of the misplaced makeup I was sure it was. She had (and still has!) this silly laugh that makes you giggle and her eyes completely disappeared – contagious. She then told me it was Ash Wednesday. I had heard of it and that’s where my knowledge began and ended. But I was hopeful. Derek’s grandmother attended mass every Saturday night. She made the sign of the cross after meals. I knew I was about to go to school.
That didn’t happen. But I did get the truth. She hedged a little, her body language telling; uncomfortable. Suddenly I felt foolish, not knowing why. Then her whispered revelation: “I don’t know.” I have come to admire her vulnerability.
At the time, I felt I had proof. Another Catholic believer who didn’t know why they did what they did. If I’m going to reveal grandma’s unknowing, I must admit my own: I didn’t know much more about my own faith. Looking back on that day, I realize grandma was laying the groundwork for thoughts, questions and answers.
So I asked questions, I studied, I wondered and asked God what did it mean? I waited.
It has been 16 years since grandma’s confession. Over these years, God has drawn me ever closer, to depths I’ve not known, to ancient words that feel like fresh wind. I savor it.
God is nearer, closer and the observance of Ash Wednesday of the Stations of the cross, of the last moments of the earthly life of Christ, draws me in, pulls me away from a busy life, from normal routines. I find myself reading in the middle of a short lunch from the beloved John. Sneaking away for a few moments to read an old prayer, reminding me of what I don’t want to forget – not leaving this time unchanged. I pull out books, read snippets of blogs, seek more, always more. Can I ever find enough of God? Can I ever grow tired of this story?
Christ’s words at times mysterious, his humility shocking, his eyes always forward, require me to reflect, to slow, to be ignorant of distraction and remember this story.
I confess, I once thought Lent, ash smeared on foreheads, prescribed chants and repeated prayers was fabricated, not what a true follower of Christ would consider. I thought and spoke out of my own gross misunderstanding.
But now, these precious days – I long for them. I need them. They are a kind of connecting with Christ that is deliberate, beautiful, raw, full of joy and grief.
I am thankful for grandma’s honest unknowing and all it has led me to discover.
*Ash Wednesday was March 5. Obviously I am late in this post, but I’ve learned it is never too late with God. The following is a prayer written by Ted Loder I started with years ago and still repeat today:
let something essential happen to me, something more than interesting or entertaining or thoughtful.
let something essential happen to me, something awesome, something real.
Speak to my condition, Lord and change me somewhere inside where it matters, a change that will burn and tremble and heal and explode me into tears or laughter or love that throbs or screams or keeps terrible, cleansing silence and dares the dangerous deeds.
Let something happen which is my real self, Oh God.