For those who don’t know, Troy is an artist and a pastor seeking the way of Jesus. He and his wife, Kelley, and daughter, Eve, live in the Capitol View neighborhood of downtown Atlanta, where they work in community organizing and public education. Troy is the abbot of Neighbors Abbey, co-leader of the Atlanta Emergent Cohort, & contributing author to the 2007 Baker Emersion release, “An Emergent Manifesto of Hope”.
Don’t hold your breath… for too long
Take a few breaths. Inhale, hold it, exhale, notice the pause, and then inhale and repeat… Ash Wednesday is like that space between exhale and inhale, that moment. But it’s worth is found as the diaphragm fills out lungs once again. We hold our breaths, but not for too long.
On Ash Wednesday, when we say “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” or “from ashes you have come, and to ashes you will return” I am reminded that carbon is everywhere, that we all share it. Ash Wednesday is not so much about the problem of being mere carbon. Like the pause after we exhale finds it’s fulfillment in the next inhale, our carbon-ness finds its fullness in the context of being re-animated by the Spirit of the Resurrection.
If you recall the second account of origins in Genesis, it is most obvious that we do not belong to ourselves. We belong with the collective of all creation to God who is the All in All.
Do you remember that account? Creation begins as an amorphous heaven and earth. Then waters begin seeping up from the ground. Then the invention of the garden separated by four headwaters, famous mighty rivers and mysterious “middle earth” type rivers leading to treasures of gold and onyx. In the midst of these things God places the character ha adam- literally “The Dirt” (just add the definite article and it becomes a proper noun). We learned earlier in Genesis 2 that average ole dirt was animated into a proper noun, “The Dirt” (or Adam) by the breath of God. The same breath that hovered over the chaotic unfinished earth, the same breath that Ezekiel commanded to enliven the dry bones of a disoriented nation, the same breath that hovered over the barren womb of the priest’s elderly wife and her young cousin, Mary. This is the breath that our Lord would breathe on the disciples in the upper room, saying, “peace” and instructing them in their vocation of earthly-meets-heavenly forgiveness.
And this is where the dirt and ashes begin to converge, like reading tealeaves in the bottom of a cup. The way our bodies work, our “proper noun-ness” takes shape when animated by that Spirit. The present of these ashes meet their future, when the Spirit of the resurrection animates them.
At Ash Wednesday we hold our breaths… for a bit… but not forever…
Wait, be patient, hold your horses, I know… Lent, and Ash Wednesday are supposed to be about waiting for the resurrection, I know. And I agree that lots of carbon based things are waiting…. all of God’s creation is awaiting the moments when the real children of God step out, to be revealed with adopted, glorified, animated bodies. I’d imagine that the polar ice caps are waiting too, for dirt to reanimate into its intended “The Dirt-ness” by Spirit inspiration. I’m sure that from Haiti to downtown Atlanta there are people also waiting for their ashes and the ashes of others to be re-animated by the Resurrection. And I know from the Master-Cleanse that I just finished that our very own bodies long for cleansing, long for the release of toxins, blocked bile, exhausted adrenal systems.
Sure Ash Wednesday reminds us of the waiting. But only insofar as it reminds of what we await, and that it we are no longer separated from that which we wait for. Ash Wednesday is not about saying that we’re all just carbon and we “don’t count,” but instead that “everything counts.” We hold our breaths just long enough to remember what a gift our breaths are. And we acknowledge the need of resurrection long enough to remind our cells of the power that the Resurrection already has.
So mark yourself and others with crosses. Make pilgrimage to an Ash Wednesday service. Acknowledge that we are all carbon at first, and that we return to carbon in the interim. But after that take in a long deep breath. Remember that carbon, that dirt and ashes, are not “nothing.” Our “selves” and everything around us, is gift, and is full of unfinished resurrection potential. Haiti, your downtown, the polar ice caps, the very cells of your body, need you to inhale- to breathe in the Spirit of Christ’s Resurrection.
I know, good liturgical people aren’t supposed to rush prematurely into the resurrection on the first day of lent. But this quote from NT Wright brings it all home for me: “The new world is at the center of everything Christianity is about. Everything that the New Testament says about the future… is basically a set of sign posts pointing into a fog…these are actually signposts which we believe to be true because the resurrection of Jesus is the launching of this hope. The hope for the future is not just for us… it is the hope for the whole world… God is going to do for the entire cosmos in the end what he did for Jesus at Easter.”
The new world, just like the first created world, is made of ashes and dust. And just as the earliest “Dirt” was animated by the hovering breathe of God, this new world, the one you can taste and see today, and the Eves and Adams of this world, whom Jesus taught to see the “kingdom of God within themselves”–all these ashes, are destined for resurrection.
So don’t hold your breath for too long.