Sunday, February 19, 2012

Ash Wednesday and a Campfire Truth

Surprisingly, Ash Wednesday always fills me with a sense of hope, for all that it calls me to reflect on eternity, on sin, and on death. When I touch the ashes, I’m reminded not just of the mistakes I’ve made, and the people I’ve hurt, but paradoxically of all the ways in which God has been present in my life.

At the end of September, I spent a weekend at Algonquin Park in Ontario, a wilderness site largely deserted by that time of year. I was there with good people who knew how to camp and how to build a fire much better than I ever could. That night we sat around a campfire and talked and joked and watched the wood turn to ash as all the stresses of our work and our lives burned away.

The smoke of the campfire traveled up into a cloudless night, and after a while a few of us walked out on the beach to look at the sky. A slash of stars burned down at us, sprinkling us with blessings, even as our little fire reached up toward heaven. The energy of a billion galaxies laid itself before us, because, quite simply, we had taken the time to look.

There’s a burning for God that consumes the heart and opens the spirit. The burning bush is no metaphor, nor the flames of the upper room. The energy of the universe exists in a God that fills us, heats us, and burns away our pain and sorrow, leaving only ashes behind.

I think of the ashes in my life, the mistakes made, the friendships lost. Call it sin, call it human failure, the truth is if we dare to live, we will err sometimes, miss the mark, and hurt others as well as ourselves. But ashes are the price of living.

We light our little fires here on earth, in our hearts and in our lives, reaching out for an eternal God who can open our eyes to invisible truths. God burns in us as we strive to live for peace, justice, compassion and truth. In our friendships and our care we start small flames of possibility and hope. Only this can strip away the trivial and hurtful - greed, arrogance, fear, jealousy, war, injustice, hate - and so open our hearts to the most profound, the most real energy of the universe. Call it love. Call it God.

Welcome to Lent.


  1. This was a good fire. You really can't have life without ashes. Everything inside of us is consumed and leaves water and ash. Thoughtful post and a good start to a penitent season.

    Kat in Alaska

  2. Good point about the water. We reach for both - water of baptism and fire of God. They both fuel us. Thanks for that.