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Standing in the doorway of the Value Market I did not expect to be warm. The constant opening of the doors and arctic wind chill blasts might have had something to do with my assumptions. However I could not have been more wrong. It always surprises me, how grace shows up when I least expect it, and teaches me a lesson. It was pretty cold, but in the end I was warmed by grace.
I was standing in the lobby of Value Market to hand out ashes with my pastor, Joe Phelps. What was illuminating were the reactions and body language we received from shoppers. Joe was in his vestments and gave out ashes, and I had a card to hand out with a centering meditative message on it for each individual. As we greeted folks with a cherry “hello” a myriad of responses greeted us. Some saw us and immediately looked at the floor and hurried by, their body language very guarded, shoulders almost hitting their ears as they got into a defensive posture. How utterly heart breaking that seeing a minister in robes, brought up feelings of being attacked or hurt, and thus the need to rush by and raise tension in the body. Ok, maybe I’m reading too much into body language, but my spidey sense tells me otherwise. Others laughed nervously as we greeted them and kept walking. It is very easy to see how people of faith might be seen as a joke today in this world of deep hypocrisy and corruption. I am certainly far from perfect and try to own my brokenness as much as I can.
Some people said, “I’m not Catholic” and rushed by. Some folks pretended they didn’t see us at all and looked straight ahead. Ash Wednesday (in my understanding) is about remembering we are made from dust, and to dust we shall return. It does not belong to any one denomination any more. All can comprehend the fragility, and uniqueness of every person that is at the center of today, regardless of faith, or non faith. For my money, atheists can take in today and meditate on the short time we are here and the importance of making things count. It may sound silly or naive, but love, is the message of Ash Wednesday. This was brought out by a fellow who came up to us and told us he was an alcoholic and would be happy to get ashes, and how blessed he was by the reminder of today. A young woman told us that “her mother would be SO happy” and beamed when she had the ashes placed on her head. Another woman asked, “are the ashes free?” We laughed at the question and she also smiled brightly with joy as the ashes were placed on her forehead. A young man introduced himself and took ashes and seemed so touched by the experience, that after his shopping he thanked us again before leaving the store. A middle aged woman told us she was taking care of her aging father and dashed out just to get some groceries and was obviously meant to come in here because she “needed the blessing.” There were many other moments of laughter, pathos and humbling testimony in the hour we spent standing in the cold.
I showed up thinking that not many would take us up on our offer. We did not have huge crowds or a long line for ashes, but we showed up, and grace sent us people who were in need of the love of touch, and fellowship. Showing up was all that was required of us. Love did the rest. Placing ashes on the forehead of another and speaking loving words reminding them of their connection to you, and the earth, is a powerful thing. It is an intimate act of love that for that moment binds the two people. I was blessed today to be reminded of the intimacy of spirituality.