Yesterday was Ash Wednesday and I received my ashes for the first time since I was a wee Catholic girl. Another milestone is that this is the first Ash Wednesday service that Calvin and I have attended–we’ve been together for five years.
This is a huge step for me. I realized this as I felt Pastor Steve apply the ashes to my forehead. There was a time when I wanted to remove myself from organized religion, especially Christianity. I wanted to run far, far away. I was born into a Catholic family and I’m a child of divorce. My father has some interesting ideas about faith and God. What I experienced was that if you pray enough God will give you what you want. Well, you’re already setting up yourself for disappointment there. Imagine my angst at not getting the kitchen play set for Christmas that I drooled over in the Penny’s catalog. That was not a good day.
In addition to receiving the message that if you are good enough you get enough, there was a lot of magical thinking, mystic messages, and guilt. My experience is that if you pray the rosary enough a broken family will be mended. The experience was difficult and confusing. I was extremely angry at God for a long time and turned my back on him. It was about the time that I decided to get back on track that I felt I had to figure this out and resolve my falling out with the almighty.
I was so angry with God that I wanted nothing to do with him and, for a time, turned my back on the social construct that I saw play out before me. I hated God for what my father and others used him for–a way to manipulate and not take responsibility for their lives. The turning point came when I was in the bathroom, because it was the only place I could go to duke it out with God. I very angrily and passionately expressed my feelings of rage for having an absent father who didn’t have a lot to give emotionally. Who would rather give money to the church in the belief that his wife and children would come back (because, you know, God can be bribed) and not give directly to the mother and children who needed money for food and clothing. With a few curse words, I clinched my hands, I pounded them on my legs, I raised my eyes to heaven, “I am so angry with you!”
And you know what? He could take it.
I left that little bathroom feeling a weight lifted off me and one more step to feeling forgiveness for God and my dad. I always hear about how God forgives, but you hardly hear about the other side of the equation–when a person makes amends with him.
The second moment for me came when I decided I was going to watch The Passion of the Christ. I was very resistant to watching this film. For many reasons, but especially the brutality. After the film I went back into the little bathroom where most of my spiritual transformations have taken place, and cried. I wept and spoke with God. I realized that what my father does with religion isn’t it. That’s not what God is about. I saw God that night as true love. That was the moment that I knew I would refer to God, who I don’t believe is gendered, as Father. He is my father, has always been there, and will always be there for me.
So, here I am after a long spiritual journey. I’m still in process and hope that I always will be. After the event, I went church hunting and started looking into the Episcopal church. Despite my displeasure with the Catholicism, I still have a love of the ritual and the liturgy. Then I met Calvin and he wanted to attend with me. We ended up leaving the church I was attending and found St. John’s Lutheran. The first service we attended was, appropriately, on Father’s day 2008. I cried throughout the sermon and for subsequent sermons after that. It was a healing experience for me and continues to be a place of growth and love. I adore our church–the pastors and the people are such wonderful gifts to our community.
It is time to close, but before I do I will end with Pastor Amy’s Ash Wednesday sermon.
These are questions from Frederick Buechner that she asked the congregation to reflect on for throughout these forty days of Lent. I give them to you here:
If you had to bet everything you have on whether there is a God or whether there isn’t, which side would get your money and why?
When you look at your face in the mirror, what do you see in it that you most like, and what do you see that causes you the most difficulty?
If you had only one last message to leave to the handful of people who are most important to you, what would it be…in twenty five words or less?
Of all things you have done in your life, which is the one you would most like to undo? Which is the one that makes you happiest to remember?
Is there any person in the world, or any cause, that, if circumstances called for it, you would be willing to die for?
If this were the last day of your life, what would you do with it?