Glitter + Ashes <3

If I am honest about my experience with Ash Wednesday, it was not always something that I thought was great. Coming out of Baptist and Pentecostal traditions where we had no concern about things like lent, I thought it was odd that other Christian traditions spent 40 days thinking about that fuzzy stuff that comes out of the dryer.

Once I finally realized what Lent was actually about, I remember feeling anxious about Ash Wednesday services. It was such a gloomy service and I was supposed to think about my human frailty and how bad I was. Or at least, that’s how I understood it. It felt as though Ash Wednesday and the Lenten season were asking me to think about how much of a villain I was in God’s story and in the world. Was this just self punishment? Because if that’s all this is, I can handle that on my own without the help of religion.

I imagine that if you’re like me, you probably don’t enjoy thinking about yourself as the villain. And why would we? I would prefer to be loved, admired, and cherished.

Was this just self punishment? Because if that’s all this is, I can handle that on my own without the help of religion.

But we grow up with stories about good and evil, light and dark, heroes and villains. And those stories are often part of our worldview—although less fantastical than our childhood fairy tales.

These stories teach us to categorize others in our lives. As a result, we sometimes quickly label others as the villain in our story. And sometimes we have pretty good reasons to do so.

Sometimes we know this person we label villain and other times we don’t. Sometimes we have suffered great violence at the hands of our villains that anyone who knew or heard our stories would tremble if they knew.

But other times, our villains don’t even know that they are villainous to us. They live their lives unaware they we are offended, bothered, or hurt by them. I can tell you from my experience everyday in New York City when I am walking behind slow tourists that are taking up the entire sidewalk. Completely unaware that they are villains in my story.

But sometimes, they do know that they have done these things to us yet choose to continue living their life as if they played no part in our pain. These relationships can leave us with a deep wound flowing from the invalidation of our pain.

So with so many villains already in our lives, why consider ourselves to be villainous? Why wear Ashes as a sign of our own evil?

I’ll tell you why I think (feel free to disagree or come to your own conclusion of course). I think that Ash Wednesday and Lent aren’t really about convincing ourselves that we are villains.

Instead, I believe that Ash Wednesday is actually about centering ourselves—gaining a clearer perspective of ourselves and the world.

Certainly the ashes that we impose upon ourselves on this day are a sign of death, a universal experience that connects us to not only humans but all of creation. Death is that thing that we cannot get away from but so often try to.

It reminds us of our frailty as humans. We are from the earth and to the earth we will return. We are not so self important that the world will fall apart when we are no longer here. Death also reminds us that we are capable of being wounded, bruising, bleeding, and just plain hurting.

Instead, I believe that Ash Wednesday is actually about centering ourselves—gaining a clearer perspective of ourselves and the world.

And again, this is a universal—it’s not just me and you; it’s all of us—even those who show no sign of ever experiencing pain.

When we respond to this invitation to a new perception where we are acknowledge our limits that sometimes create pain and harm for ourselves and others, we are simultaneously being invited to “return to the Lord,” as the prophet Joel writes.

But what does this mean?

I think that it can mean a number of things. At a minimum, I think that the prophet Joel and Ash Wednesday are inviting us to find wholeness through perspective by not merely look at the ashes of others, but to look at our own ashes.

We are invited to take time to look at ourselves and remember that we too are imperfect. And this is not to beat ourselves up but to own ourselves. To own our limits. Our growing edges.

But we also are invited to own our goodness, which is our glitter.

Within our Ash Wednesday perspective gaining, we must not forget that in Jesus we saw a picture of human frailty and divine goodness coming together.

The Jesus story teaches us that while we once thought that heaven and earth were completely separate, heaven and earth actually coexist. The human and the divine coexist. And where does this happen?

Divine-human coexistence happens in you. And it happens in me. And even in the villains of our story.

This is why we wear ashes and glitter today and this is the perspective that we are invited to take: though there are ashes, there is also glitter in life. We get to remember that we are both beauty and ash. Though we are dying, we have life and beauty to experience here and now.

….though there are ashes, there is also glitter in life. We get to remember that we are both beauty and ash.

We can see our imperfections and acknowledge them without wallowing in them. Because we can respond by showing ourselves empathy, love, compassion, grace, and respect. And in showing ourselves these things, we can also learn to show others these things.

Let these ashes and glitter be a sign to us today that ashes and glitter exist in all of us. Sometimes, it may be a little harder to see the glitter of others, because their ashes may be a bit thick. But I promise you that it’s there. And our glitter is there too.

Beloved, tonight let us rend our hearts. Let us bring our whole selves to the table of love. The good, the bad, the ugly. And let us love ourselves fully. And let us also love one another fully. It is a struggle to do both but it is worth the battle.

For when we can declare that we are glitter and ash, we can declare that all of us are beauty and ash for God is in each of us. God is not afraid of our humanity. No, she is found in our humanity. And our humanity is found in God.

So let us move forward in this feast of love with renewed perspective that God is in you, in me, and even those we think are unworthy. And that divine glitter mixed with that human ash is worthy of love. Always. Amen.

God is in you, in me, and even those we think are unworthy. And that divine glitter mixed with that human ash is worthy of love. Always.

COMMISSION & BENEDICTION

Beloved, always remember that you are and glitter—never just ash and never just glitter. And together they are beautiful.

May God bless you and keep you,

May God’s face shine upon you and be gracious unto you,

May God’s countenance be lifted upon you and give you peace. AMEN.

 

“Glitter and Ashes”
Preached by Lance Hurst
On Ash Wednesday
February 14, 108
At Westminster Presbyterian Church
Trenton, New Jersey

Queer Ash logo from Queer Virtue

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