Tag Archives: Ash Wednesday

Mary Elizabeth Hanchey: From dust you have come, and to dust you will return

From dust you have come, and to dust you will return.

This proclamation names our mortality. But the rhythmic painting of ashes that it accompanies – down and then across, down and then across, down and then across – marks us with the sign of our risen Lord. We are at once named death and life. Marked with an ashen cross we enter the wilderness with Jesus and begin plodding along towards Holy Week. We face death and darkness and our own brokenness as a people who also know that Easter will burst forth.

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From dust you have come, and to dust you will return.

Willingly stepping into the wilderness – on purpose – as a part of spiritual practice – could seem counter-intuitive. Those who know the language of Godly Play have heard that no one goes into the wilderness unless she has to. But going into the wilderness, and then living into Easter, is rhythm that is important to practice.

As mothers, and as ministers, and as mothers who minister, we find ourselves in the wilderness more often than we would like. And more often than not we arrive suddenly. We don’t feel led there by the Holy Spirit, as Jesus was. We feel abandoned.

We start our day planning for a bit of mothering and a bit of ministering. Mothering and ministering both require tending to administrivia as well as to profound relationship building and we lay groundwork and balance and stretch and listen and perceive and take action so that we can do all of this tending effectively. And then someone who is angry or afraid or insecure or simply misinformed dumps her mess on our heads and we find ourselves standing in the wilderness soaked and sticky and outraged and alone.

And we are tempted. We are tempted by all sorts of responses that tease at gratification.

Jesus has shown us what to do about temptation in the wilderness. In Luke’s telling, Satan tempts Jesus with three tantalizing suggestions: fill yourself up with your own works; claim authority that is absolute, though Godless; and behave cavalierly. Jesus declines.

In the wilderness, empty and lonely and exhausted, Jesus remains focused on what he knows to be true about God. And he is strengthened for the ministry he is about to undertake.

From dust you have come, and to dust you will return.

Having been named both life and death we step into the wilderness of Lent and practice surviving until Easter. We practice declining the seemingly gratifying temptations we face there. We practice so that when we find ourselves suddenly abandoned in the wilderness on a day that we thought mothering and ministering would be life-giving, we will remember that Jesus is there with us. We practice so that we will remember that we are an Easter people who will not let wilderness overtake us.

We practice so that we can accompany others in the wilderness. Who do you know that is in wilderness? As you lift your eyes to gaze upon the others who are plodding in wilderness, speak to them with a breath tinged with Easter. Tell them what they need to remember in order to survive the fear and loneliness. Make a Lenten practice of naming the spiritual gifts of those who walk beside you. Remind the bearers of burdened hearts and heavy shoulders that they are God’s own.

This week as we step into Lent marked by ashen crosses, let this prayer guide our plodding:

God of the wilderness, fill me with your Spirit. Show me Jesus in this place. Help me to focus on what I know to be true about you. Protect me from despair. Protect my children from my temptations. Strengthen me for the ministry that lies ahead. Put words of encouragement on my tongue. Amen.

 

 

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Mary Elizabeth Hanchey is a Coordinator for Project Pomegranate, which provides spiritual resources for those impacted by fertility grief. A member at Watts Street Baptist Church, she lives in Durham, NC with her husband and three children. She is a student at Duke Divinity School where she is pursuing an MDiv as a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Scholar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sarah Boberg: Holy Hands, Holy Moments

These hands have held the hands of youth in prayer circles filled with laughter and tears. These hands have embraced grieving friends. These hands have held the hands of tiny children as we walked, skipped, and played. These hands have torn up old boards, and gotten a few splinters. These hands have planted new flowers in fresh soil. These hands have scraped and painted many walls. These hands have played basketball, dodgeball, and volleyball in school yards. These hands have served many plates of food. These hands have changed diapers. These hands have pointed and scolded. These hands have held new born life. These hands have been covered in dirt and sin. These hands have been washed new. These hands have been the hands of God.  

I wrote this simple reflection after a powerful Ash Wednesday service. I helped lead the service along with my husband and our music minister. I will have to begin by saying the Ash Wednesday service is one of my favorite during the year. Reflecting on our unworthiness made worthy in the sacrifice of Christ, ashes on the forehead, communion, beautiful music, humble believers – all of these things make my soul break and sing all at the same time.

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However, this year the service took on a whole new meaning. Scarlet, my 2 ½ year old daughter, attended the service with us. This is not her first Ash Wednesday service; as the kid of two ministers she had ashes on her head before she was even a year old. But something about being two makes all things different. (Can I get an Amen?!)

At the beginning of the service she was a bit restless and only wanted to sit with me. Well, I had to participate in the call to worship, so I just took her with me. As I read, she stood behind the podium and held my hand. Then we went to be seated and prayed and sang together. Then it was time for a scripture reading and once again, she went with me, stood behind the podium and held my hand.

During the time for the imposition of ashes she held my hand and we walked to the front. My husband–her dad, our pastor– imposed ashes on our foreheads. We went back to the pew and she started asking, “What’s that?”

Now my theologically trained mind wanted a better answer, but the mother in me simply said, “Jesus’ cross.” She continued to be fascinated by our crosses, wanting to see hers, moving her eyes to try to capture a glimpse of her cross above her eyesight.

Then she sat in my lap, completely still, completely in awe, as our church family continued to receive ashes on their foreheads. She watched in total amazement, almost as if she knew it was a Holy moment. She watched each stroke of her daddy’s fingers, dirty with ashes, as they put the sign of the cross on the foreheads of her friends and family.

Her restlessness returned through another song, prayer, and Brad’s homily. (I have already learned these restless moments bother me way more than they bother others.)

Then it was time for communion. I would be serving the cup. I asked Scarlet if she wanted to go sit with someone else, but no. In my mommy brain I quickly thought, “How is this going to work?”

But there was no time for thinking, only time for doing. So Scarlet and I went to the front and Brad handed me the cup.

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With one hand I held the cup of New Life and with the other I held the hand of my 2 ½ year old daughter.

She once again watched in amazement. She watched as I said to each person, “The blood of Christ shed for you.” She stood right there holding my hand the entire time.

In the beginning I didn’t fully understand the significance of the moment. But somewhere during that communion I realized the power of God through our hands.

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It is a blessing and honor to use my hands to celebrate the blood and body of Christ, shed and broken for the forgiveness of our sins. Each communion served has been a Holy moment and my broken and sinful hands have been used as Holy hands.

But this communion was extremely special. My husband held the bread, the body of Christ. I held the cup, the blood of Christ.   And I held the hand of my child, God’s child, who truly embodies the hope and love of Christ. This was a Holy moment with Holy hands, not just for me, not just for our church, but also for our family.

As we ventured home I could not get over the significance of holding Scarlet’s hand. She has been part of our ministry journey since her arrival. She is a blessing to our church and sometimes a far better minister than Brad and I combined. Her hugs and smiles are the light of Christ in a dark world.

On Ash Wednesday she was a minister. She stood beside me as I read God’s Word. She journeyed with each person as they reflected on their ashes. She helped served communion. Her hands were the hands of God.

Her hands reminded me that life and ministry are more than words, more than carefully planned worship services, and more than tasks to complete. Her hands reminded me we have the opportunity to be the hands of God. Her hands reminded me the importance of Holy moments and Holy hands. So whether changing a diaper or serving communion, these hands will never be the same.

I find that I cannot end this post without saying that this Holy moment would not be possible without a loving and accepting church family. Not all churches would allow or accept their ministers to be parents first. Our church has been extremely supportive of Brad and me as ministers, but even more supportive of our struggle to be parents and ministers together. I did not feel a single condemning eye as our child read scripture with me, served communion with us, or even when she climbed into Brad’s lap as he sat in his chair on the platform as our music minister sang. These people love God, love us, and love our child. This is truly a gift.

I am thankful to serve a church that allows for Holy moments for our entire family.

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Rev. Sarah Boberg is the Minister of Youth and Children at First Baptist Church in Red Springs were she serves alongside her husband, Rev. Bradley Boberg. She is the mother of the beautiful and energetic Scarlet Carolyne and spends her “free” time working on her Ph.D. in Educational Studies with a concentration in Cultural Studies from UNCG.

Melanie Storie: Dust, Ash Wednesday and a Moment

For dust you are and to dust you shall return. Genesis 3:19

Like many families, my family eats on the run a lot.

We have ball practice – every kind of ball practice in every season. We have church and my husband is a pastor, so we have a lot more church than the average churchgoer. It seems like there is always church, which is mostly good, but on Wednesday “family night” suppers, Aidan sits with youth people, Owen sits with us, but “us” is usually me, because Matt is being the pastor and pastoring.

At home, eating in front of the TV became a habit for us because the DVR beckons us with her siren call. We have been together, but not together at all.

When my children were small, people would say to me, “Enjoy it now, because it goes so fast.” At the time, I thought those people were idiots. Diapers, late night feedings, temper tantrums, etc… bogged us down. It was going so slow and I was so sleepy.

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It’s only now that I am beginning to see that those idiots were wise. Time is callous and cruel. It moves on even when we realize it is really going way too fast.

So, I decided that this year, we would eat at the table as a family more. I wanted just a moment each day for us to slow time down.

Yesterday, my children were five and two years old. They were adorable and delightful. They snuggled with me. They let me read to them and sing to them. Fighting between them usually occurred over toys and away from the dinner table.

Today, my children are thirteen and ten years old. They are slightly more handsome than adorable. As they grow up, I am amazed to see glimpses of the men they will soon become.

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All of that said, I would sometimes like to run away from home. To a spa. Or a very quiet me-sized hole in a tree in a faraway wood.

Aidan holds an honorary doctorate in sarcasm and is working towards a master in surliness. At thirteen, he is taller than me, which makes him taller than most people. Owen, a blonde haired, blue-eyed cherub has career aspirations towards law enforcement, not so much for the action and weaponry as for the power to enforce THE RULES. And honestly, he’d look amazing in the uniform.

Their personalities are a lethal cocktail at the dinner table. Owen says something earnestly. Aidan says something witty and sarcastic which sounds mean in Owen’s pre-teen ears. There’s the “Can’t you take a joke?” and the “It wasn’t funny” and the “You just don’t get it” and the “You’re just a jerk.”

I briefly and fondly wish back the distant days of thrown peas and mashed potatoes. Those glorious high chair days.

We hadn’t even prayed yet.

“Okay,” I said in what had to be a moment of divine clarity. “This is getting out of hand.”

Protests of “he started it” and innocent looks of feigned ignorance were lobbed my way. I held up my hand. “Let’s go around the table and say something nice about each other.”

We each took a turn. The boys talked about the good they see their dad do with people in the community and at church. They actually listen and learn from his sermons. They love just spending time with him.

Apparently, they actually like each other too. They each think the other one is funny. They enjoy doing things together: video games, basketball, and laughing together. They like being brothers.

They like my cooking. Owen likes that I spend time at his school. And then my surly thirteen year old with a doctorate in sarcasm gives this insightful speech about how even though I don’t have a full time ministry job like my husband, my job is so important because I keep everything running. “You’re always there for me,” he said.

He couldn’t know about my mini mid-life crisis. This “what am I doing with my life” thing that I’ve been dealing with. But he wiped all of that foolishness away when he spoke from his heart between forkfuls of broccoli.

On the way to church later, they went back to griping, picking, and nagging. Aidan said his toothbrush tasted like soap.

Owen piped up from the back seat, “That’s because I put soap on it.”

I don’t have a perfect family, but I did have a perfect moment at the table with them. Our lives are made up of moments and most of them fly by so quickly, we barely notice them.

The ashes on our foreheads remind us that we are dust, we are a tiny blip in the timeline. The cross reminds us that we are dust worthy of notice. We are humbled and worthy, both held together in the hands of the One who spun the universe into motion.

That’s just a lesson my children taught me at the dinner table.

Melanie and Grandpa Kilby
Melanie and Grandpa Kilby

Rev. Melanie Kilby Storie lives in Shelby, NC with her pastor husband, Matt, and her two sons, Aidan and Owen. Currently a tutor at a local school, Melanie is finishing work on a novel, Wildwood Flower set in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina about a girl who can talk the fire out of a burn.