Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Meditation for Ash Wednesday

Meditation for Ash Wednesday
Genesis 3:19
William G. Carter

“By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

I don’t want to frighten anybody, but I am wearing a dead man’s shoes.

They came as a gift from his widow. She was cleaning out the closet, and thought my feet might be about the same size. They fit perfectly. They enhance my style. I like them very much.

But sometimes, when I wear them, the shoes start to work on my imagination.

What was it like to be in his shoes? The previous owner was strong and fit, full of strength and power. One afternoon, while working out on some exercise equipment, his heart gave out. He was a year younger than me. His name was also Bill. I’m wearing his shoes.

The shoes remind me that life is short. It could conclude at any moment, even if we are taking good care of ourselves. We don’t know how many days we will be given. Each day is precious and needs to be valued. We may be here for a while, so we can build for the future. Or at any moment the trumpet might sound and we will need to be ready to go. Most of us know these things, but we let them recede out of conscious attention. The truth becomes very poignant to me when I wear these shoes.

These shoes teach me that we have gifts to share with one another, both while we are still here and later when we are gone. We cannot clutch too tightly the goods in our closets. It makes no sense to complicate our lives with too many possessions. It is silly to stockpile more than we need. Life is designed to be shared. And if we are too fearful to share what we have now, the day will come when those who come after us may share them on our behalf. So these shoes announce that somebody else is now free. What would it be like if I were free?

I wear these shoes into the sanctuary tonight. And so I am reminded that I am also standing on solid ground that God has established. There is a firm foundation under my feet and yours. We didn’t create it. Terra firma is a given, a gift, something that God has provided. So there is no place that our shoes can take us that is beyond the grace and mercy of God.

When we hear the call to “repent,” it’s an invitation to wake up, to pay attention, to perceive that God is always wherever we are. If we sense any distance between us and our Maker, it has come from God’s hiddenness or our wandering. To repent is to see with our hearts that this ground on which we walk is truly holy ground, and that our brief, fragile lives are now – and always – in God’s presence. Look at the shoes that brought you here.

So gather tonight on the first day of Lent. Whether or not we’ve ever kept the season, its truth cannot we neglected. Life is beautiful but fragile. Time is eternal but short. And we live and breathe by God’s mercy. When we are weak, it is God who is stronger. When we fail, God is still beneath our feet. If we cannot finish all we set out to accomplish, it is a lesson for leaning on the grace of God.

“Dust to dust” is how we say it. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. The book of Genesis tells the truth. We can mark our foreheads with the public sign of the cross. We can mark the back of our hands as a personal reminder.

As for me, I have these shoes. Somebody else’s shoes.

And if it is still difficult to perceive you are anything more than dust, if you find that a blow to your ego or an offense to your pretensions, let me simply say that being formed from the dust is not so bad. It’s one more reminder that you and I belong to God. To affirm that, we have the words of poet Langston Hughes:

Gather out of star-dust,
And splinters of hail,
One handful of dream-dust,
Not for sale.”  (Langston Hughes, “Dream Dust”)

© William G. Carter. All rights reserved.

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