{Lenten rose in Shelly’s backyard}

Phone is on mute and pushed into my faded jeans pocket.  Blue leopard heels click on the brick floor down the center aisle. I slide into the end of the shiny wooden pew, smile at the unfamiliar woman with fuchsia lipstick and bleached bob seated next to me.  She leans over, whispers that she likes my shoes. I think about how loud they echo over the silence.

We share a kneeler to recite the Litany of Penitence

Words bounce off vaulted ceilings, organ pipes, chandeliers . . . Most holy and merciful Father. Suddenly she hangs her head, sighs exasperated next to me. Without a prayer book, she feels lost and exposed. I lean over, share mine. She clutches the other side of the book and we continue . . . we have sinned by our own fault, in thought, word and deed; by what we have done and by what we have left undone.

Strangers holding words to strip the soul naked in order to be clothed with Him. 

Shoulder to shoulder, we read Psalm 51, admit our sin, declare the faithfulness of God, ask for absolution and I am stuck on verse seven like a skipping record.

For behold, you look for truth deep within me, and will make me understand wisdom secretly.

Is this an illustration of repentance? Like a secret door in the hidden garden of the soul that leads to new perspective.

Because repentance, it is an invitation to change my mind, in order to change direction. To move away from nostalgia toward the city called truth.

Confession takes me to this place, where heads hang low, hearts crack open, eyes see new, and the mind unfolds accordian. We go together, the stranger and me on the same journey.

Confess unfaithfulness, pride and hypocrisy.

Impatience, self-indulgent appetites and ways.

Exploitation of other people, anger at my own frustration and envy of others more fortunate than myself.

Intemperate love of worldly goods and comforts.

Dishonesty in daily life and work.

Negligence in prayer and worship, failure to commend the faith that is in me, blindness to human need and suffering.

Indifference to injustice and cruelty, false judgment, uncharitable thoughts toward my neighbors.

Prejudice and contempt toward those who differ from me.

Waste and pollution of creation and lack of concern for those who come after me.

As I say the ugly words out loud, I wonder if this list fits me. Do I really do all these things? Maybe, just a few of them. Perhaps the lady sitting next to me, she can relate to all of them.

But as I read them again, the words become mirror and this is the doorway to Lent.  I’m not fully prepared for the journey and even if I had a suitcase full of the just-in-case, I still wouldn’t have a toothbrush. I’ll board the bus anyway.

So it is clear that no one can be made right with God by trying to keep the law. For the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life. (Galatians 3:11)

Suddenly, giving up a brownie after lunch for forty days seems trivial. I could give them up forever in exchange for the blood that sets me free.

I stand in line, take my turn shuffling knees onto the crimson cushion at the altar rail, think about how much He loves me, and loves you. The white robed priest, he leans over , smudges ash across my forehead with his finger while admonishing, Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

I look at the sooty smudge on the lady wearing fuchsia lipstick and smile. It looks beautiful on her.

It feels good to put things in their proper place and get heavenly perspective.

Have you ever attended at Ash Wednesday service?  Do you plan to celebrate Lent?