What God Can Do with Earth and Ash

Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The temptor came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put your Lord the God to the test.'” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you if you fall down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away with you Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve only him.'” Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him. Matthew 4: 1-11

The weekend after Thanksgiving, I lost my mind and went looking at dogs in the shelter. I decided to offer my home to a senior dog because they often do not get adopted, and I knew I needed another creature in my home. So I looked at three elderly dogs. Roxy was so old that she could not lift her deaf, blind little head off her bed; Leah was indifferent to everyone around her and sort of was more interested in, well, I’m not sure what…not me, not food, not a walk…so I said no thank you to both of them.

The woman said they had one more dog that was a senior, but she mostly just bites people. So I returned to the Executive Director’s office, where Trixie was camped out because she had nowhere else to live. She barked her head off at me and did not want me to get too close, so I ignored her, sat down on the floor, and gave her treats without looking at her. She took them, and after some time, she put her head on my lap. It is difficult to change.

At this church, we talk about Migrants every week. The staff and some volunteers are met with a lobby of donations, and we have to decide what shall we do with them. Some are amazing thoughtful gifts that come from the best part of people. Others are cleaning out a closet, dumping stuff off, and hoping someone else can decide if it can be useful. Some of the things that are donated, I hope, are bags they meant to take to the trash, and they got mixed in with the stuff for others. Sometimes it is difficult to get out of our own way.

So on Sundays, we sort. A couple of weeks ago, the parish hall had tables full of clothes that we were sorting, and other tables had the makings of bag lunches, and parents were teaching how to make bag lunches for other people for the grate patrol. Watching children handling ham slices, you would think that was the difficult part. Explaining to kids why we are making them…that is a difficult part of being a parent.

What is our Place when it is bigger than the lobby of St. Mark’s or the parish hall? We have to look past our sense of place of comfort and even the places we are trying to be of service to.

People in Ukraine are turning to dust as we speak.

People in Turkey are turning to dust as we speak.

Today is the day that we are reminded that it is our fate as well.

We are of the earth, and we are all connected.

This is the day that we remember our mortality, and we are told to pay attention and do our best to remember that over the next 40 days.

Karoline Lewis said this about Lent,

“If it means giving up things, countless reminders of how worthless and temporary I am, any glorification of suffering, then it means nothing to me. If it means embracing the importance of self-reflection when it comes to your identity as a disciple, who you believe Jesus to be, what (if anything) the cross really means to you, how you understand the meaning of the resurrection, and that you take the resurrection forward to the meaning of the ascension, the Lent has meaning to me.”

I have been asking (all of us) to remember what God can do with earth and ash and what creation can do with earth and ash.

We think or are taught that repentance is about suffering, about giving things up, not adding something. But what if repentance is not about moral transformation but rather a shift in our perception? A possibility to see the world anew.

So now I have an 11-year-old dog in my house who has to figure out everything new. In human years she would be 85. Yet she is trying to train me, and I am trying to train her. She can see the world anew and acts out of that instinct rather than comparing things as they used to be. I know she is a dog, and I realized that as we hit the three-month mark, her coming to my house and being the dog she is, well, now I have had to amend my life and my way of moving through it. That is the difficult part.

I will tell you a secret… I choose an 11-year-old dog because I did not want to go and get my last dog. I am turning 60 this summer; it is my first time considering that means for me. If I get a puppy, it will be my last dog. I would not get another dog at 71, so I picked this old lady who bites most people and whose ears perk up when she sees someone on the street; I wonder if she is looking for her person. Trixie is from Florida, and I wonder if her person died. She is making do with her new life, and I am making do with my temporary dog. I like her a lot, and I hope someday she likes me back.

The reality of getting an older dog is a shift in my perception; it opens up a new way of viewing the world. So this Lent, I am giving up working so much that my dog is home alone, I am giving up 14-hour days, and I am giving up the idea that I am invaluable to all of this enterprise. I love what I get to do every day, and I want to keep loving it, so I will pray a little more, write a little more and do the parts of my job that I love a little more if I do that This could be a different kind of Lent.

I know there is always a difficult part, and I know there is always change. Lent gives me,  and perhaps you, a chance to test that out, and in doing that, like Trixie the dog, Karoline the theologian, and me, we practice and set ourselves up to roll into the life God would want for us.

May it be so.