Thursday, 3 April 2014

Ashes, Life, Death, Love 'n Other Mysteries

Although I'm no longer the director of Mile End Mission, I still take special services there at the request and with the encouragement of  Lou, the new director, Lori, and others. So, on Ash Wednesday we held a non-traditional service. Armed with a simple bilingual leaflet and a small container of ashes rendered by our Evelyn at St. CHL from last year's palms and some charcoal bits from my friend Anne's fireplace. I'd asked for an old white sheet, but Lori found something better - an off-white long body pillow case which we put across one of the regular tables. When I put the ashes down, two young, curious, and eager faces appeared. Paige asked, "Who are they?"

Oh my! Out of the mouth of babes... Paige's experience of ashes: when her Grandma Connie (of Mission fame) died, the children helped place her ashes in the beautiful wooden box they had decorated. So, a natural question: "Who are they?" Pretty appropriate for Ash  Wednesday. I explained where the ashes came from after asking if they reminded her of Grandma. Yes, they did. We talked about where ashes come from - and the bits of charcoal from wood that has burned down....

Everyone who wished (most adults and all 4 children) made trumpet sounds and then a shortened passage from Joel was read ... "Blow the trumpet..."   and the Gospel ... "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also..." I asked what our most important treasures are, what we can't do without... and several things were mentioned including LOVE. Ahhh... I can be extremely wealthy, but if I don't have people to love and people who love me, it's not worth anything... I scrunched up and then went under the table and curled up crooked on the floor and said, "What's it like to have no love?"  Answers - Lonely. Isolated. Sad. Then I asked if someone who loves me would help me out from under the table. Paige and Sharissa, two of our children, rushed over and helped me out. It was so touching... 


People who love me helping me out into the community





We talked about ashes and crosses on our foreheads. 

Everyone drew crosses on the cloth with charcoal. I asked  the girls who had baptized them. Quizzical looks. "I don't know. I was a baby." Missy whispered in Paige's ear that I had baptized her in the lake at camp. Paige then whispered in Sharissa's ear that I had baptized her





, too. We did an imaginary pouring of water over their heads and they got all 'wet' and then I demonstrated the invisible crosses on their foreheads meaning they are God's children. 

We gathered in two concentric circles - pairs facing each other and used a form I found in Sara Miles' book about Ash Wednesday at St Gregory's in San Francisco. One person says, "Forgive me a sinner." The other replies, "God forgives you. Forgive me, as sinner." Response from person # 1, "God forgives you." Then the inside people move one person to the right. 

I got to an indigenous person who has lived a life in hell, was molested (along with other children in the community, by both a teacher and an Anglican priest. And, as is usual, each child thought he or she was the only one until many years later. She asked if God really forgives her. Yes, God forgives you. Several times back and forth. Both of us in tears. "I don't believe it," she said. I replied, "God's bigger than you. God forgives you." Afterwards we chatted - she is not the one who needs forgiveness - the abusers do. Anger. Yes. Excruciating ... 

We put ashes on foreheads, and Lori asked if we could put some on Connie's photo. I did, in the corner then asked paige and Sharissa if they'd like to. Well! They put the crosses on her forehead! 


Johnny marking my forehead with ashes
What a privilege is ours.

In the US, many do "Ashes to Go." Sara Miles and her group stood in a park in the Mission district of SF, near a subway entrance. I can't begin to describe the impact emotionally and spiritually ... you'll have to read the book: City of God.  So many moving stories within the larger one. Sara Miles' story inspired me to take ashes out to some who couldn't come to church - so a few of us went. And again, it was inspiring. We give - but - as well all know - the gift back to us is indescribable.


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