The threshold of Ash Wednesday

And so we stand on the threshold of Lent.  With fast beating hearts, we are asked to step forward and kiss the hand of the fearsome guardian who stands between us and the truth.  As Nicodemus says in Robinson’s poem:

… What has truth done to us
That we must always be afraid of it,
As of a monster with a shape unknown
To man, prowling at night and breathing fire?
The truth is not like that; we are like that –
Or would be so if we were not so little.  (EA Robinson, Nicodemus, p.10)

Lent pushes us, or should push us, at least a little further into the truth than we want to go.  If there is no pain, no contraction, no gasping for strange air, are we truly being born of water and of the spirit that we may enter the kingdom of God?  It is a hard truth that, as cancer survivor and poet Mark Nepo writes (in Acre of Light), “Pain makes the secrets known.” Of course, pain can also break us and bind our souls.  Only the Spirit can navigate the dark waters of the second birth.

In the epistle reading (Acts 3:19-26), we hear more about hard turnings, but we are also assured that the redirection of all our doings will bring us into the times of refreshing which shall come from the presence of the Lord… the times of restitution of all things.  Nothing is lost; all and everything are finally gathered in the Spirit’s harvest.  On this February evening, when winter weather has broken (at least for now) into spring rains, it is easy to imagine such times of refreshing, and to be drawn forward by them.

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