Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust

Ashes.
I scatter them. They slip away from cold-numbed finger tips. It is winter. Nothing grows in winter—does it?

Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.

But the kitchen fire warms my hands.
Its ashes make nutritious things grow.

We are ashes;
our lives seem sometimes to slip through our fingers.

We are also formed from good, dark hummus—the earth.
We are dust.
P
laced in God’s garden “to till it and to keep it.”

Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.

The season of Lent in Christian traditions is a time to reflect on rhythms of feasting and fasting and feasting again in our world, our churches, our spiritual lives. To   what fasts can we commit ourselves during this season that will teach us how to fashion a redemptive and life-giving  relationship with this earth we call home?  What can we plant in the ashes and dust of Lent’s Great Fast that will bear nourishing fruit for Easter’s Great Feast?

Lent begins with Ash Wednesday. On Ash Wednesday, our foreheads smudged with charcoaled Palm branches from last year’s now-cold feast, we are reminded:

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.     Genesis 3:19

Life is fleeting and fragile. Yet Lent calls us to work–by the sweat of our brows–to embody the Christian Gospel’s Easter promises of abundant feasts for all people. This is perhaps the most palpable outcome of a holy Lent: people of faith considering what it means to live lives of meaningful sacrifice and redemptive service and then taking steps to do just that.

 

 

Magnificat: Christmas Eve Thoughts

magnificat_

Snow falls. Gently. Lights twinkle in houses festive with welcoming wreathes. Santa and his eight tiny reindeer land on a snow-covered roof. Enchanted. Perfect. Bah Humbug!

Those were Robin’s words as she opened the Christmas gift to discover–the snow globe. A holiday scene trapped in a watery sphere. What does a 50 year old woman do with a snow globe? You look at it, and then what? She had no room for one more thing to look at. Her house is too full. Her life too complicated. Her time too cluttered with grown-up worries…

But don’t we sometimes long for a snow globe Christmas? Smiling people on festive streets. Enough snow to cover up imperfections—not so much to make streets unsafe. A lovely Christmas contained in a predictable scene. Oh, the extremes we go to create that idyllic Christmas, and what disappointments do befall us…

We are also perhaps too quick to see the Nativity story as snow globe scenes. Shepherds on a hillside. Joseph in an uncluttered carpentry shop working with well-maintained tools. A baby born in a barn touched by the glow of the brightest star in the heavens. But what about this scene in Luke 1? Mary. Young. Poor. Unmarried. Luke 1? This is no snow globe scene. Things get shook up, but by a message that sends Mary’s life into disarray and unsettles even more an already uncertain future. Mary says “yes” to God’s call but then flees to the mountains. To Elizabeth. And there in the safe space of friendship—can we see her? It is as if Mary holds up a snow globe and in the light of community glimpses God’s vision for the world. A vision that is being birthed in her. A song rises up within her: “My soul magnifies the Lord. God has brought down the powerful and lifted up the lowly. God has filled the hungry with good things.” In me? Through me?

To magnify. In Greek: “to enlarge.” How does a human soul magnify God? In ancient Rome, people used a bowl of water to magnify things. A bowl of water. A snow globe’s watery sphere. Mary’s soul, her life, magnifying a truth about God. And looking through her soul, we see a radical Christmas scene. God’s vision. Where justice and grace replace fear and violence.

Many have imagined a different kind of world—Hallmark, the creator of Rudolph and other Christmas stories, songwriters. But Mary? Mary’s soul magnifies not a snow globe hope for a momentary, seasonal change of hearts and minds. Mary’s soul magnifies a radical vision: God birthing hope in to human life—God breaking through the glassy domes we put around who and what we think God and humanity are—breaking through cynicism and pain—to ignite justice and hope.

Robin decides to donate the snow globe every year. But she never does. Maybe the child inside of her won’t let her give up her hope for a joyful Christmas scene where all is right with the world. We want to believe too. We pray. Protest. March. Cry out to God. We long for a world where hope replaces despair. Where children don’t fear violence or hunger. Robin takes a last look at the snow globe. She will really donate it this year. She shakes it. Watches silver snow fall on Santa and the reindeer. She loved the magic of it all when she was a child. She believed something about it was true. But then she grew up.

Ready to put the globe in its box and take it to the donation center, Robin notices on its side a key she has never seen before. Music too? Probably “Here Comes Santa Claus” or another Santa song. Notes tinkle out. “Away in a Manger.” Oh my. Then something stirs within her. An ancient hope, perhaps? Lost childhood wonder? Or the unexpected belief that what God promises in these Advent stories is real. Maybe the peculiar snow globe scene and music combination isn’t as crazy as it seems. After all, God didn’t come to visit an idyllic scene. God came to earth. God came to the mixed up mess that is human living. God comes to turn our lives upside down, to transform, redeem, heal, restore. Robin put the snow globe on her windowsill and looked through it out into her neighborhood. Out there—in the ordinariness and brokenness of human lives—God comes. The scene is not idyllic. We have much yet to do to see justice done in our world. But the promise is real. God works through you and me to bring hope. What vision does the world see through our lives?

“My soul magnifies the Lord. The lowly are lifted up. The hungry are filled with good things. From generation to generation.” Oh God, may your song live in us today.