“Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”
Yesterday, I found a book in my car, on the passenger seat floorboards. I have no idea where it came from. I had to slam on my brakes on the highway to avoid a collision, and when I looked down, there it was. Picking it up when I got home, I turned it over and over in my hands, studying the title and the cover illustrations. The book is small with curly cursive letters on the front and a soft pink background. In the middle is a woman’s face, dainty with a blank expression like she’s not sure what to think. I looked for any clues to its owner and found nothing except for some scribblings in the margins, none of which tell me anything about the reader. I still don’t know where it came from, but I know I want to read it.
The book is called A Lost Lady by Willa Cather, and it appears to be about the loss of illusion in love, like so many stories are. Regardless of what the text is actually about, I want it to be about (need it to be about) me. I need it to be about how someone like me, someone lost and forlorn, found her way. A lost lady learning to swim in a sea of confusion. I need that book to have a happy ending.
Because I’m a selfish human, like most are, I find myself struggling to locate myself within literature. Or any type of media, really. In songs, I look for my love story, my heartbreak. In TV shows, I look for my character, the one I can relate to best. On Facebook, I look for comparisons to my own life that make me feel better (usually worse) about myself. This is me being honest.
In a world with so many hidden mirrors, we have to fight to be allowed to discover ourselves without the influence of society. However, I challenge all of us (myself included) on this Ash Wednesday to look at ourselves in a new way, not in the way the world strongly encourages us to. Yes, look at your sin and examine your flaws. I know mine are abundant. Yes, look at your worries and examine your fears. Grieve your habitual errors and name your strongest enemies of the mind. Don’t be afraid to better understand your mistakes. Sin will always be there. And there’s a whole lot of holy in working on that sin to make it less. But look again to realize your beauty. Realize the unique life’s blood that makes you who you are. In the face of that sin blaring like a headlight on the highway, shine a light of forgiveness for yourself and for others. Ash Wednesday, to me, is just as much about realizing the truth of redemption in its wholeness as it is about understanding the complexities of our sin. The Church repents, remembering that we are nothing, dust to dust. And yet, I hope we remember the hope in our power to carry on.
More honesty: believing has been really hard lately. Remembering to be thankful has been hard. Prayer has been especially hard. Every time I’ve thought about talking to a God I’m so unsure about, the thought cripples me. So, I’ve found a new way to pray, one that will have to do for the time being. Since I don’t feel able or wiling or worthy enough to talk to God, whoever He or She is, I have tried something else. Sometimes I kneel next to my bed and whisper names, words, and places on my mind. I send over love with my mind, show somebody in the stars that I care. I think about all the beauty in that person, that place, and I rejoice over it. I think about all the hurt and suffering in that person, that place, and I lament it. And maybe that’s not what prayer is supposed to be, but maybe it’s a step closer than where I was when I couldn’t get on my knees.
One of my housemates, Emily, is writing a new blog during this 40-day season of Lent. Every day she will be publishing either her own words or a guest blogger’s on a topic related to the redemption of the Church. I would encourage you to read her writing, not only because she’s a phenomenal writer and an even better friend, but also because the topics will help us all better think about what we need to work on more specifically. Sometimes we see Lent, especially Ash Wednesday as a time to slap ourselves on the hand and tell ourselves how bad we are. But it’s more than that – it’s a time to understand our mistakes and work on fixing them. Join me in reading Emily’s blog for some words of wisdom that delve into how we can do that together. https://www.emmbrick.com
And if you find any information on the mystery book I found in my car, let me know.