Ashes to Go
This week, I came up with a lot of excuses to avoid the "Ashes to Go" initiative in the Diocese: theological ones (Outside the context of the liturgy, ashes have little meaning.), practical ones (Our church is not prepared to do this; we have no handouts and no sign.), and meteorological ones (It will probably rain anyway.).
None of these excuses managed to drown out Bishop Marianne's exhortation to me to "step outside my comfort zone." My fear, I realized, was that I would stand outside with my ashes and no one would want any. I expressed my angst to a colleague who responded with a simple question, "How many people would make it worth your while?" After thinking a minute, I answered, "One." "Then do it," she said, "for that one person."
And so, on Tuesday our office volunteer, Sharon Dove, made an "Ashes to Go" sign. I typed the phrase, "Ashes to Go Brochure" into Google, and lo, a brochure appeared (from the Diocese of East Tennessee) with the heading "Adapt for Your Congregation." So, following the early Ash Wednesday service I went "out of my comfort zone" onto the sidewalk between St. Margaret's and Connecticut Avenue. I felt a little like Jonah going to Nineveh; doing the job but only sort of.
As I stood there in my robes, in the cold, I found myself praying things like, "God, why am I doing this? No one is going to stop. This is ridiculous." And just then a stranger's voice broke through my interior rant saying, "What are the ashes for?" And so it went.
Twenty people stopped at St. Margaret's steps: some out of curiosity, some in gratitude, some not even sure why they stopped. A bus driver ran across 6 lanes of traffic; a harried traveler passed me by but doubled back to make time for a prayer and ashes. The weather held, and the liturgical context was made by the presence of the Spirit. And I realized in the process that I was being blessed.