If I speak in tongues of justice or spirituality,
but do not have ashes,
I am a self-congratulating vigil,
a Sunday service inspired by itself.
If I have social media outreach,
a labyrinth in the church garden,
Bible study in the brew-pub,
and, if I have a capital campaign
to remove pews, put in church chairs,
and even add a coffee shop,
but do not have ashes, I am nothing.
If I give to church-wide offerings,
and go on mission trips so that I may boast,
but do not have ashes, I gain nothing.
Ashes are awkward; ashes are dirty;
ashes, like love,
are not envious, boastful, arrogant or rude.
Ashes do not insist on a perfect Lent;
they do not even need to be in church
or a gimmick to get folks to church;
they do not inventory wrongdoing,
especially the wrongdoing of others,
but rejoice in the precious now,
the very fragility of life.
Ashes bear love, believe in love,
hope in the possibility
of forgiveness for everyone,
endure even times of lovelessness.
Forgiveness never ends.
As for spiritual practices,
they will come to an end;
as for both the precious hymn
and the passionate praise song,
they will grow quiet;
as for theology and faith formation,
believe me, they will change again.
For churches are always reaching
for a part of things,
while those who flee church
reach for another part,
but, when the full forgiveness comes —
it will look more like Valentine’s Day.
When I was a child, I said “I love you.”
I cut out pink and red hearts,
and gave them to everyone, even the bullies,
but when I became an adult,
I decided to make it more complicated.
Today ashes, dust, and paper abide,
but the greatest of these makes a heart.
(written for my fabulous New Hampshire School of Ministry class)