Sometimes you can only look down. But even that can help you see up.
She smiles straight into my eyes as she touches the cross-shaped ash onto my forehead, one creature handing another the truth that sets free. “From dust you have come; to dust you will return. Live in grace.”
I come from a tradition that doesn’t practice Lent. We had other ways to remember Jesus’ death, week by week. But somewhere along my journey, I discovered that the difficult discipline of Lent extends to me the great grace of being a creature. His creature.
During this forty day journey, we don’t look down to stay there, floundering in the quick-sand of our clay beginnings with all their heavy frailty. We look down to look up, notice our weakness to love His strength, see our sinfulness to revel in His forgiveness. We let ourselves feel our dustiness to turn and live more deeply in grace.
It’s not painless to become aware of my creatureliness. I know the ache of emptiness: the empty arms, the deep places where longing carves great caverns, the body emptied once more of strength. I wrestle with my inability to rest, feel failure at returning again to the same struggles. And discover once more that weakness is not sin. Nor is the need to be held and loved and put back together again and again. On the contrary, dissatisfaction with being a creature lies at the root of all sin.
And so I turn back, free to be small, and ask my Creator to return to me the joy of being His creature. (It’s a big weight off not to try to be God!)
Isaiah helps, offering many grace-gifts to us creatures. (Just have a look at chapter 40, or 41, or 42.) He frames the first seven verses of chapter 43 with the twice-spoken reminder that we are created, formed, made. The verses between offer joy-gifts of living as creatures of our loving Creator:
- We forever belong (“You are mine.” v. 1)
- We are known (“I have called you by name.” v.1)
- We are accompanied (“I will be with you.” v. 2)
- We are protected by His presence (We don’t get to skip the troubles; we’re sheltered in them. v.2)
- We are treasured (“since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you. . .” v.4)
- We are being made whole, all the parts gathered together, healed and restored in loving relationship with Him (v. 5-6)
It’s here, small and safely held, willing to be fully human rather than trying to be our own God, that we’re finally able to offer our bodies – these fragile, treasured, vulnerable bits of clay – back to the One who asks us to rest in His hands.
at the start of this day
– Your loving gift –
I offer my body to you again
all its strength
and all its weakness.
May I not draw back from its weakness
but allow the full force of its weight to press
me into your hand.
May I not withdraw from its strength
but let each breath, each word, each step become
a gift of love to You.
Teach me how to live the rest
of surrender to being held
while I pray, play, and do the work given me.
Help me learn that the way to take up
my cross and follow is to let myself be taken up