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.
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
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
- 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".