Ash Wednesday, Lent, Reflectionary

Charred Hosannas

Sunday before last, someone sitting close wore cologne that irritated a tickle in my throat. In these first months of my unintentional retirement from parish ministry, I have moments of missing the refuge of the chancel, where we have become allergy-sensitive, even ordering stamen-free Easter lilies.

When Zechariah saw the angel, he was startled and overcome with fear. (Luke 1:12, CEB)
Yet Zechariah went into the Lord’s sanctuary for the hour of burning incense, to thicken the air with scent, as pungent as the cloud that startled me the first time I burned the previous year’s palms in my fireplace.
blackened-hosannasSweet and acrid, it filled my head: caramelized palm, charred hosannas.
You can buy a pouch of tidy ashes from Amazon – I have – but I long for those inefficiently rendered fronds, smoldering on a piece of foil while I sat overcome near the fireplace grate.

Holy One, may the fragrance of Your presence never cease to startle and overcome us. Amen.


I’m reading and blogging about Luke for Lent. Want to read along? I’m using the Common English Bible; tomorrow I’ll be reading Luke 1:26-56. Full schedule can be found here.

Ash Wednesday, Prayers for Pastors

Where did I put the ashes? (An Ash Wednesday Prayer for Pastors)

It’s the opposite of Christmas.
I wake up with a feeling of dread.
Where did I put the ashes?
How will I coordinate bread and cup and bowl?
Oh, no, is that the cat throwing up?

Meanwhile, the child prepares for school,
and I flash back to older children,
standing with their backpacks on,
that time we tried an early morning service
and no one else came.

Foreheads marked with smudges,
up and down, and left to right,
they disappeared into their schools,
carrying something of us and You
into a place where few understood.

Not that we understood completely,
how the ashes of last year’s palms,
palms we burned ourselves in the fireplace,
become extraordinary, ineffable,
by mixing with oil.

I’m terrible at the mechanics of it,
but I love the idea that we mark
the season and move with Jesus
toward that week in Jerusalem,
reading and praying his story.

I love the idea, but I worry about
the proportion of ash to oil,
how the people will move from
bread and cup to bowl,
or bowl to bread and cup.

AshesMeanwhile, outside my head,
a biome project is planned,
and someone is texting me,
and it’s time to get out of bed
and clean up the mess

and hunt up the pouch of ashes,
this year ordered on the Internet,
yet still a wonder, still a sign
that we are dust, Your dust,
and to dust we will return.

Ash Wednesday, Lent

A Gate for the Sheep

I don’t know much about sheep, a fact impressed upon me a few years ago when I tried to talk about them on Good Shepherd Sunday only to have a 2nd grader in my country congregation tell me about delivering lambs after the mother has a prolapse. All of a sudden we were in a chapter of “All Creatures Great and Small.” Her grandmother looked mortified, and I had to figure out how to finish delivering the Children’s Word safely and get the children out the door to Sunday School. I will admit the entire congregation looked relieved when I asked the children to pray and uttered the “Amen.”

I don’t know much about sheep, just the average amount you might expect from someone who knits and likes wool and from someone who went to seminary and learned that shepherds were not well-respected for a variety of sociological reasons and from someone who has read the 23rd Psalm and knows God is supposed to be a shepherd to us and from someone who went to Episcopal day school and remembers confessing “we have erred and strayed from our ways like lost sheep.”

Rare breeds carefully shepherded at Colonial Williamsburg.
Rare breeds carefully shepherded at Colonial Williamsburg.

I don’t know much about sheep. When I lived in Williamsburg, Virginia, I used to take the kids I babysat to look at the sheep in the “restored area.” Those sheep would stare you down. Their basic needs were few, but I got the feeling they would gladly walk over you to get to food or water. I was glad to see them in the care of a shepherd or, better yet, behind a fence.

“Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep.” Jesus perplexed the crowd listening with his extended metaphor about sheep and gates and real shepherds and bandits in John 10. Real sheep are stu- well, I was raised not to say that word. Real sheep are not bright. They want their basic needs met. Surely we are more complex than they?

I do know a few things about me, and I’m actually appallingly like a sheep. I do better if I get fresh food and water. I like to be told where to go, because it makes me feel secure. I work well with a prompt, and even better with an externally imposed deadline. Left to my own devices, I drive over hill and dale and end up at the Plum Frog instead of the Crimson Frog and am ten minutes late for coffee in a place I could have found easily if I had looked at a map instead of giving the wrong name to Siri, who is a Bad Shepherd.

This Lent, after prayer and consideration, I’m going to put some fences around the time I spend with ready access to social media and the Internet in general. This is hard. Part of my work is online, and the other part of it is mostly at a computer or some other device with an accompanying keyboard. Three of my children are far-flung, and I like to be close to a device on which they can reach me if they want me, even though it’s true they don’t need their mother 24/7. My hopes are to get better focused on words I read in books (including but not limited to the Bible) and words I scratch on paper, and to have more time when I am present to the family under my roof, and to be more present with myself and with God.

These would be good things to do even if it were not Lent, but I’m going to accept the invitation from Jesus and go through the gate this Ash Wednesday and see what it looks like out there in the pasture.

(We’re living in the Narrative Lectionary at church and at home, where the texts for Ash Wednesday are about the Good Shepherd.)