Snow and ashes. These two words seem to dominate my thinking these days. An odd duet, perhaps. Though not surprising when taken individually.
Snow.Snow. And more snow. Such is this February in the land where I live. Anyone who has watched any news or weather reports about Boston 2015 will not be surprised. Four major snowstorms in three weeks, two of them officially “blizzards.” The snowiest one-month period on record. The snowiest February on record—and it’s only February 16. You know you’re in trouble when meteorologiststalk of snow in feet and not inches, when they make comments like. “This next one shouldn’t be anything significant—probably only 3-6.”
It’s causing major headaches for many people—public transportation shut down, driving hazardous, roofs collapsing. To name only a few issues. Still—dare I say it?—it is beautiful. As I write, I look out on sparkling snow-filled woods, still (for now) pristine white.
And strangely, it makes me think of ashes.Black, sooty, contrasting ashes.The ashes of my sins which demand incineration.Contrasted with the pure snows of redemption.
This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, traditionally a time when ashes on the forehead are to remind us of our mortality—and, I might add, our sin.The longer I live, the more I’m aware of the blackness of that sin.Seems backwards, in a way. But somehow, the longer I walk with God, the more I see how different we are—He and I.Maybe I’m finally learning the necessity of the curate’s prayer in Gaudy Night, by Dorothy Sayers: “Lord, teach us to take our hearts and look them in the face, however difficult that may be.”
That look makes me all the more eager for the redemption poetically described in Scripture like snow: “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord. Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow . . .” (Isaiah 1:18) The psalmist pleads: “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.” (Psalm 51:7)
So, on this brink of Lent 2015, perhaps it is fitting after all to have these two words bouncing around my head: snow, and ashes.
Speaking of Lenten words, many of you who know me will not be surprised that I already have my favorite Lenten reading in hand: Walter Wangerin’s Reliving the Passion. I read it every year, and I doubt this year will be any exception.
But I have another recommendation that may interest some of you. Last September I recommended a new book by my author friend Lucinda Secret McDowell: Live These Words. Since it features 40 words in one short chapter each, it would make great Lenten reading.Recently, Cindy (as I’ve long known her) made available a study guide to go with the book called “Lenten Words.’ You can print it free on her website www.encouragingwords.net.
Yesterday our pastor encouraged us to consider not only what we could “give up” for Lent, but what we might add. May I suggest that either of these two above-mentioned books, one an old favorite and one a new favorite, might give you a place to start?
Even if you don’t live in the land of the “storehouses of the snow” (see Job 38:22) as we approach this Ash Wednesday.