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.

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