Skip to main content

connected by ashes

i had a great ecumenical moment yesterday. i just hope that the pope isn't mad at me about it. i might have just landed myself on the vatican's "10 most wanted" list. let me tell you what happened.

yesterday afternoon, after a noontime ash wednesday service, i headed over to new brunswick to visit a teenager in the hospital. as he was in tutoring when i got there, i ended up spending a good bit of time with his mother and aunt. i realized that they would all like to experience the imposition of ashes for the beginning of their own lenten journeys, so i headed down to the chapel to see if the hospital had ashes. before i left the room they told me that the tvs in the rooms have a channel that shows the chapel, so i told them to look for me and i would make faces at them. unfortunately, when i found the chapel, someone was in there praying fervently, so i tried to wave and make faces as discreetly as possible. but there were no ashes there.

so i got directions to the chaplain's office and knocked on the door. no one answered so i opened the door and went in. there was a receptionist's desk on my left and a man sitting in a chair on my right. he looked like he was waiting for someone so i asked him if anyone was in the office. he said he didn't know, and as he noticed the ashes on my forehead, he proceeded to tell me that he was hoping to receive ashes before he went home for the day. as soon as he said this, i noticed some containers of ashes on the receptionist's desk, and so i said, "oh perfect! this is what i was looking for. i assume i can take one of these to a patient's room."

"oh, you mean, you're a priest?" he inquired in response.

"well, i'm a pastor. i'm a methodist minister. are you a..."

"i'm a roman catholic."

then there was this moment of indecision. i could tell he really wanted me to offer to impose the ashes for him, but i was weighing the possibility of being sought and destroyed by opus dei or something. while in this conundrum, i found myself speaking without really giving myself permission. "i mean, if you want, i could do this for y..."

"really? that would be great. thank you so much."

he seemed really happy about that. i didn't tell him that he might have just landed himself some extra time in purgatory or something. i'm really not familiar with the rules here. i simply took the ashes and put them on his forehead, like i did several other people yesterday. our differences didn't really matter in that moment. we were both just human beings. broken, fallible human beings, trying to recognize our own mortality; trying to start this journey toward life and light from the shadows; trying to allow the grit of ash to get us started off on the right foot. both of us. the white protestant united methodist pastor and the black roman catholic man. both marked by ash. both of us alive. both of us broken. both of us bound by hope in the One who invites all of us to the feast.


Erin said…

as a non-catholic, non-well anything. not sure what brand i am, but i never grew up observing lent. however, this year, several of my family members are taking it seriously and using it as a time of reflection and gratitude. it has brought us together and given us cause to really think about Christ's sacrifice...
Emoly said…
that is incredible and a story of true Christianity, not Catholic or Methodist, but Christ in His true form. Amen
Greg C. said…
Great story; thanks for sharing. Reminded me of attending my aunt's funeral Mass 10 years ago and struggling with whether or not to take Communion (yea, that extra purgatory thing....) and then suddenly realizing that Jesus, as I understand Him (for what that's worth), wouldn't deny me the opportunity to partake in His body and His blood simply because I hadn't confessed my sins in a way that a bunch of old white guys in Rome determined was the one and only way to do so....Boy did I feel a sense of freedom that day! So last month, when I was attending my uncle's funeral Mass, I didn't hesitate!
Cindy M. said…
I believe you were just being a man of faith and God smiled on you. We are all His, one tree stump with many branches of how we choose to worship Him. I went through the same feelings as greg C. with my father in law's funeral service and taking communion. But, I know... God knows my heart best.

Unfortunately, the church Jamie and I attended did not do the ashes, i was disappointed as I have come to rely on that service to set me in the right tone for Lent. But, again... God knows my heart.
stella g. said…
i really like this story. it's very human. very raw. frankly, what God intends for us to be with Him, with others. thank you for sharing it.

Popular posts from this blog


i made these comments and prayed the following prayer at one of our worship services at SPWF yesterday, and had a few folks asked if i would post them, so there they are: 
It has been a season of terrible tragedy.  And I have noticed in the news a trending phrase: thoughts and prayers.  It even has its own hashtag on twitter and other social media, but net necessarily in a good way.  People are understandably tired of hearing about others’ thoughts and prayers, when that is only a thinly-veiled way of saying that our only obligation to those who suffer is a brief moment of silence, or nothing more than a tweet or public statement.  The truth is that, for those of us who follow Jesus, much is required when our neighbors suffer.  We are called to do justice where we can, to love kindness and mercy, and to walk with God through it all.  But let us be careful not to throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater.  We are, as people of faith, those who know that prayer is not simply an em…

a divided tree

there is a tree in my back yard.  i'm pretty sure it's an oak tree.  at least that's what i think Shannon told me.  i don't know my oaks from my maples, my elms from my locusts.  to me, it's a tree: a corinthian column bursting up into life and glory.  full of sap and pulp and rings and bugs and cells pulsing with water and always reaching for something.  it is full of rhythm, reach and flourish then fall and die, and repeat. 

this particular tree, though, isn't of one mind. 

half of it's rusted orange leaves have given up their grip and surrendered -gracefully or not - to the pull of gravity and the threat of winter.  the north side of this inauspicious oak is just about bare naked, all sticks and straight lines, a skeleton of itself.  but the side that looks south is stubbornly resisting change.  no longer green, the leaves have compromised their summer vibrancy, but they are clearly not ready to concede death just yet. 

i feel like i can relate to this …

thankful right now

"if the only prayer you ever say in your life is 'thank you,' it will be enough." -Meister Eckhart

"thanksgiving is inseparable from prayer." -John Wesley

i've been thinking about gratitude quite a bit this week, and how to foster a thankful spirit in the midst of the barrage of bad news that for me is punctuated by yet another "breaking news" notification on my phone, interrupting the busyness of my day to rudely remind me that the world's brokenness knows nothing of limits or boundaries, not to mention my schedule or sanity.  still, the bad news keeps coming. 

i just scrolled through my most recent notifications just from the last few days and they contain phrases like "crimes against humanity," "57 million users hacked, but not reported," "alleged pattern of sexual abuse," and "extremely disturbing," just to name a few.  how am i supposed to be present at a staff meeting when my phone is buzzing …