Friday, February 19, 2016

On the Way with Ashes

I was originally going to title this post, Get Your Ash Over Here; but I'm pretty sure that sort of thing is frowned upon, and I don't want anyone to think I'm belittling or being dismissive about a practice that actually touched me very deeply. But this is about a "Takin' it to the Streets" kind of thing, and it seemed like maybe a little levity was allowable. And besides, I was reminded that last year some Lutheran churches used Get Your Ash in Church for their Ash Wednesday signage; so I'm not the only one who couldn't resist the word-play. What? Lent? Oh alright then - I will rescind the alternate title suggestion. As of the end of this paragraph, you can strike that from the record...

The point is - ashes. And not just any old fireplace or even bonfire ashes... palm ashes by way of what is lovingly called at our church, the Holy Hibachi. So, ashes. In a pyx (do I get extra points for using one of last week's vocabulary words?). On the way to... wherever.

Three fellow parishioners and I met up at Downtown Berkeley BART on Ash Wednesday, for Ashes on the Way. Folks were coming and going to and from wherever they were coming and going to and from, and we were there to offer and provide ashes to anyone who wanted or needed them to help get the Season of Lent underway. Emily met me first and we chatted while waiting for Danielle who had the signs. Danielle arrived, bringing  two pyxes (or... pyxies? Pixies! Hmm... ashes as fairy dust...), a bunch of lovely wallet-sized prayer cards, larger handouts describing Memento Mori (with Niebuhr's Serenity Prayer on the back) and two great A-frame chalkboards for signage (which I thought were hugely helpful).

Caitlin joined us (you know, with a B-named person, we would have had A, B, C, D and E... oops, sorry... shiny moment) and we split into two pairs, with Danielle & Caitlin going across the street to another BART entryway while Emily & I stayed put. I'd love to say, "and ashes were had by all"... but no; certainly not in the secular and largely academic People's Republic of Berkeley - I've lived here too long to expect that. Ashes were, however, had by many - along with smiles, conversations, prayer cards and explanations about Memento Mori (have you Googled it yet?).

There's something about bringing the sacred out to meet others where they are, that calls to me... that calls me. When people approached (or replied to our invitation - we didn't always wait silently, it's true), we shared stories, imposed ashes, chatted, taught a little, and even agreed to a free hug or two... it was street ministry, and I found myself in a sacramental experience in the way that St. Augustine defined it - sharing "an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace". We were there to serve, to practice loving our neighbors and to be conduits for that grace by way of ash and prayer... as I've often heard at church, "blessed to be a blessing to others".

I feel strongly (and tend to get excited) about different ministries both within and outside of church walls and Sundays, and have been questioned about it by a few people who were concerned when I said (rather enthusiastically), "This feels like something I'm really called to" or "this is what I'm supposed to be doing" more than once... or twice. Welcome to my Shiny Thoughts. Remember? "Look - squirrel!" Right. It's for reals. At the risk of sounding defensive (though I hope not), I'm actually not fickle (or dishonest, or confused, or undecided)... rather, I'm open to change, adaptable, excited about new opportunities and have always had the ability to feel the sacred in many different places; especially that last one. Each thing I've learned on this journey, each new ministry I've undertaken, has touched me deeply, changed me in some way and become dear to me.  And I feel I've come to that place in the way I agreed to at my Baptism: in community and with God's help. I haven't done and can't do any of this alone... it's taken a lot of prayer, meditation, contemplation, Sundays in church and knowing I have a family, a parish and a school full of people behind me to get to where I am now... and I have to say, I like the view from here. Ashes on the Way is my new Best Thing Ever in ministry, and I have a feeling it will be for a long time to come... and... I can't wait to see what the Spirit brings me to next.