Greetings to all in the Love of Jesus Christ:
I wonder if any of you are feeling a bit of spiritual whiplash as we have gone from Superbowl Sunday to Ash Wednesday in the span of 10 days. My mind is trying to understand how to deal with the juxtaposition of two phrases I have heard to describe people during this short span of time:
“He is the Greatest of All Time.”
“I am but dust and ashes.”
What do you make of that contrast? Or the contrast between these two symbols: the Vince Lombardi Trophy and the sign of ashes on some of our foreheads? One is about winning the championship, about being the best, about claiming victory and glory and superiority over our foes. The other is about abandoning the attempt to win, accepting our own vulnerability, and living in solidarity with all. Think about it for a moment, and it is astounding to note the contrast between true Christian spirituality and American culture.
Nearly 2000 years ago, the first Christian writer, Paul of Tarsus, noted a similar contrast between the way of Jesus and the way of Greco-Roman society. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1:18: For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. Foolishness. What a way to have our spirituality described: Foolishness. To much of our world, ideas like giving up privileges, abandoning any claims of superiority, or not fighting back seem foolish. And yet, Paul says, it is the power of God.
Sometimes, it seems, we can turn the message of the cross into the exact opposite. At times, the cross of Jesus is lifted up in triumph, as a claim that we are better than others. I am reminded of Agatha Christie’s “The Mystery of the Spanish Chest.” Hastings, the proper English gentleman, was trying to teach the famous detective Hercule Poirot about humility. Poirot decided he was going to try, promising Hastings: “I shall be the most humble person in the world. No one will match Hercule Poirot for his humbility.” Sometimes, it seems, we Christians have made the same mistake.
And so once again, we receive Ash Wednesday as an invitation to embrace the seeming foolishness of humility. We are invited to repeat Abraham’s words: I am but dust and ashes. For when we give up our need to be somebody important, when we let go of our ego, we begin to allow ourselves to be shaped by the image of God inside us. We begin to allow the breath of God to fill us. We begin to understand ourselves as vessels of God’s spirit, privileged to be connected to the very heart of Being. Humility is the doorway into union with God, and Ash Wednesday is our invitation to walk through the doorway and experience the joy of oneness with God.
Dios les bendiga!
Regional Minister and President, Christian Church in Arizona