Ashes and the Season of Lent: Maybe It's Time


Maybe
it’s time
to let it all
fall apart;
to stop holding on,
holding together,
that which is broken
beyond repair.

Let it burn to ash.
Let it crumble
and collapse,
decompose.
Is this not
the way of all things?

Maybe ours
is a season of death.
Then, so be it.

Let it all fall apart.
Let it burn.

Maybe this
is the bravest thing,
the one thing necessary
to live a life of faith.

- K. Chripczuk

I'm thinking, still, about ashes and this season of Lent.

I'm thinking of the devastation of this past year - for churches, for communities, for families and individuals. I'm also thinking of the tendency to hold our individual and collective breath, to hold on tight until the storm is past, and we can return to some semblance of normal.

But the longer we wait, the clearer it becomes that normal is unlikely to return - not in the ways we knew and took for granted. The quieter we get, the clearer it becomes that normal - as we knew it - was deeply flawed.

What are we to do?

//

Cliff Hanger is a character in a clever sketch series from the children's show "Between the Lions." Every episode begins with Cliff hanging from the edge of a cliff, hands desperately wrapped around a small breaking branch. Hanging there, mere moments from falling to his death, Cliff ekes out the same phrase in every week, "Can't...hold on . . . much …longer...!" Every episode begins with the desperate Cliff being rescued only to, in a series of events less than a minute long, end up back in the same dreadful position.

The other day, I described our current mid-pandemic position to my husband using Cliff’s strangled refrain: Can’t…hold on…much…longer….!

All of us, it feels, have been hanging here for quite some time. Our arms are tired. The top of the cliff – that once safe, familiar place – feels a little further away with each day that passes. Hanging here, we’ve had plenty of time to think about what life was really like on that high precipice, to determine whether we were really as happy as we said we were, to clarify which essentials remain essential from this vantage point.

//

One of the things I like about Ash Wednesday is that is welcomes, under the umbrella of God, the very worst of what can happen in the human experience. Ash Wednesday offers the opportunity to affirm the piercing truth that, eventually, we all fall. “Death will come, bringing a return to dust,” Ash Wednesday declares. Yet, even still, God is with us – even here, even now. Like the Psalmist reminds us, there is no place too high or too low, too dark or too bright or too far away that God’s great love cannot find us, catch us, even there.

This year, looking back at a year of losses, a heap of smoldering remains, I feel my own desire to hold on tighter, to salvage what I can. But, underneath my attachment, I hear Ash Wednesday whisper, “Why not let it ALL fall apart? Let it burn, completely.”

This is the season we are in – Lent – a time in which we follow the darkening trail all the way to the cross and beyond, to the very tomb itself, where hope lay down its weary head and wept. This is the journey of Lent, this invitation to follow, as we can, believing there is no darkness or death that can out-maneuver God’s capacity to create life anew.

Maybe it’s time to let it all fall apart.

Discerning the Place Your Find Yourself In


I once attended a retreat where participants were instructed to spend some time in nature and look for something that "spoke" to them. Whatever spoke to you, you were to pick up and bring back to the gathering-room to share.

Walking down a wooded path, I saw a white stone and bent to pick it up, but paused. The stone wasn't exceptional in itself, but its surroundings - green grass, pine needles, smaller gray pebbles - made the small, white stone stand out. I knew, if I picked it up to carry inside, I'd be removing it from its "place." I had a deep sense that the stone was exactly where it needed to be - in a place where it was both nestled-in and singled-out.

That stone helped me understand the importance of place, helped me accept that where I was was exactly where I needed to be. I suppose the message could have been different. All of us certainly find ourselves, at one time or another, in places we must leave posthaste, without looking back at all. 

Knowing the difference, of course, is a question of discernment, one I've often sorted out in conversations with a Spiritual Director or close friend. Perhaps the best way to begin is with simple, non-judgmental, observation. Here are a few questions to get you started:

* What do you notice about the place you find yourself in (be honest)? 

* How does it compare to other places you've been in? 

* How might you know if this is a difficult, but important place for you to remain in for a season? 

* What clear signs might tell you it's time to leave? 

* Still feeling stuck? Shoot me an email (Chripczuk.kelly@gmail.com) to set up a FREE consultation - maybe Spiritual Direction would be a good fit for you.

What Remains in the Wake of Loss



I recently listened as a colleague ticked off a long list of losses. Each loss felt, to me, like an autumn leaf, brown and shriveled, dropping from a tree, from his lips, one by one. I could see the leaves falling, piling at his feet. I could feel loss upon loss gathered there, at the feet of the three of us, gathered virtually to listen. 

In his poem, Fighting the Instrument, Mark Nepo speaks of the opening that often follows in the wake of loss. He is careful, however, to avoid minimizing the pain of loss. Two-thirds of the way through the poem, he makes it clear: choosing to value the openings created over the desire to fight or bemoan the often cruel agents of change, is never an easy choice.

"This is very difficult to accept," the poem says. The line is so brief and clear, it would be easy to overlook. But, I have stayed in that place of difficulty that precedes acceptance for weeks, months, and occasionally years at a time. Sometimes I think that staying, that willingness to breathe through each painful loss, is what leads to acceptance, is what creates the opening and the courage needed to live into it. 

My colleague listed his losses and they fell like leaves gathered into a growing pile. We listened and affirmed the losses. But, even still, as the leaves were falling, I remembered the way barren branches reveal so much more of a winter-blue sky. I glimpsed, for a moment, the opening being made, and it gave me hope that there would be revealed, again, a "jewel in the center of the stone." 

This post is a reflection on Mark Nepo's poem, "Fighting the Instrument." Visit Spirituality and Health to read the poem and the poet's own reflections on it. 

Gratitude and Our Most Painful Losses



Occasionally, it's possible to catch a glimpse of gratitude bubbling up on the periphery of life's most painful experiences. This gratitude is bashful, hovering just to the side of things, small and round, like a spot of light, refracted. This gratitude invites a turning in those who want to truly embrace it. 

This is not gratitude for the loss itself, but for the path it opened, for the spacious place in which you find yourself now - days or weeks or months later. It is a sliver of light, a glimmer in deep darkness. Such gratitude is best captured by peripheral vision - look too closely at it, slide it under the microscope of quantity, quality or necessary identification, and it dissolves like fog in the morning sun. But, abide with it, welcome it in passing; extend your hand, your heart, to it, as one might do with a skittish cat and maybe, perhaps, one day, when you least expect it, it will walk right over and curl up to sleep in your lap. 


This post is a reflection on Mark Nepo's poem, "Fighting the Instrument." Visit Spirituality and Health to read the poem and the poet's own reflections on it. 

Turn

 


Turn verb: to (cause to) change the direction in which you are facing or moving. 

It’s the end of a long day at the end of a longer week and I’m finally beginning unwind as I sit on the loveseat preparing to read to my youngest boys. One boy sits on the radiator behind the couch with his back pressed against the window, his legs are stretched out on either side of my shoulders. 

His mouth is packed with gum and he alternates between seriousness and giggles as he attempts to blow a gigantic bubble. He focuses, pursing his lips, then collapses in laughter as I stare at him with bright eyes and a wide smile. Several small bubbles expand, then pop across his face. The biggest ones cover his nose and mouth with a thin, pink mask. After several bubbles and fits of laughter, I turn back to the book we planned to read. 

But, every time I start to read, he leans forward, grabs my head in his hands and turns me to face him. The bubbles, the giggling, the sticky masks continue on extended repeat. As he turns my face again and again, I’m transported to another time and place. 

This boy, now nine, is the same one I carried at age three – chest to chest, with his legs wrapped around my back. He always had so much to say, his eager face inches from my own, as a torrent of observations and ideas poured out. While he talked, I would sometimes dare look away – look past him, around him, at the dishes waiting in the sink or dinner simmering on the stove. Noticing my distraction, he would shift his face, leaning his whole body to re-center himself in my gaze. If my inattention persisted, he placed his small, chubby hands, one on each of my cheeks, and forcibly turned my face toward his own. It was a dance, my distraction set in time to his focus and persistence. 

Sitting on the loveseat I see again how his hands turning me, his willingness to repeat the motion, to re-center me, is a grace. Maybe this is how all things are turned– by gentle, but persistent hands of love.