Tuesday, March 10, 2015

8/52 :: ash wednesday.


"Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return." I could almost taste the ash as the priest crossed it over my forehead. It trickled down onto my nose, but I didn't feel the urge to laugh.

Church, if done right, is an innately humbling experience; weekly, I'm reminded this life does not revolve around me. I'm reminded the world is big and vast, and the role I play in it is small, albeit noticed by a God who breathed life into me by His mercy. Church regularly reminds me of my smallness, but I have never felt as small as I did on Ash Wednesday. 

We have confounded our families and friends with our decision to attend an Anglican church. This week, I read remarks by Southern Baptist leader Albert Mohler, who in a podcast commented on the recent "conversion" of two Southern Baptist young men to the more liturgical Catholic and Anglican traditions. His words stung.

“As I read this news article, it comes as judgment -- judgment upon all those who missed the opportunity and failed in the responsibility to ground these young boys as they were then in the Christian faith… the differences between the understanding of a Scripture-centered Christianity and one that is centered in the sacraments, as is the Roman Catholic system, and at least much of Anglicanism.” 

Dr. Mohler's words stung because Jordan and I both come from families firmly grounded in faith, families who love Jesus and believe in His redemptive saving grace. Our families' legacies are embedded in us, and those legacies don't go away just because the church we attend on Sunday mornings has a different name on the sign and a giant crucifix hanging in the sanctuary.

I love God because He is big. I have struggled with church because church tends to make Him small. 

Albert Mohler's words struck a chord because I took them personally -- I don't like thinking of my parents or my church as having failed me -- but they also bothered me because they make my giant God seem miniscule. 

One of the things I love about Anglicanism so far is its immense respect and admiration for other Christian denominations. I have not once heard an unkind word uttered from the pulpit or the parishioner about a fellow Christ follower. Instead, I have heard priests laud their Catholic brothers, and the pastors of a nearby Baptist church break bread with the Anglican staff once a month. Weekly, fellow Christian congregations are prayed for, not that they would find truth and "be saved," but that their work would bring honor and glory to Christ's name. 

In a world where Christians are beheaded for their beliefs and innocent children wind up in the bondage of sex slavery, I want to be a part of a faith seeking unity, a faith caught up not in the "he said, she said" arguments of denominational differences, but in the ways we can transform our world and turn it upside down with grace and love. 

Anglicanism is as grounded in Scripture as the church of my childhood. Each week, we read passages from the Old and New Testaments, plus a Psalm and a gospel reading. Dr. Mohler's criticisms -- at least in that particular podcast -- don't hold up. Perhaps even more important than the countless verses I hear read to me every week is the fact I spend almost the entirety of the service on my knees. Inconvenient? Yes. Uncomfortable? Absolutely. Meaningful? You bet. Turns out I can't feel arrogant or strong-willed or stubborn or independent when I am on my knees. My position serves as yet another reminder of my weakness.

This was my first year to engage in an Ash Wednesday service. Jordan had been through the rituals many times previous, but I had not. And I worried a little bit about walking around town with ash on my forehead. I wondered if my Father, who is in secret and sees what is done in secret, would be honored by a public act. 

My doubts mostly washed away in that moment at the altar. There is nothing prideful about remembering you are dust. There is nothing arrogant about walking around with dirt on your forehead.

And so, this Lenten season, I am relishing in my smallness. And every week, at an Anglican church seeped in both Scripture and sacrament, I am reminded of the greatness of my God. For now, for this season, I will continue to spend my Sundays on my knees, praying for, not against, my fellow believers, that the vast world we inhabit might be one day filled with the light of Christ. It's a goal I don't believe we'll reach if we're spending our time belittling one another on podcasts and indulging in our differences. Our sameness makes us His, and it's what has the power to turn our world upside down for the better. 


Leslie said...

This is a great post and sounds so similar to what I love about Orthodox Christianity. It keeps God big, and us small. You can see Christians prostrate on the floor of the church in reverence to God and Christ. You don't get that in the "scripture-centered" (as put by Dr. Mohler) churches, who seem to worship the canonized New Testament more than anything else. Thanks for this, Annie!

Denise K said...

Thank you for posting this. Recently I've been attending Catholic Mass (my childhood faith) as well as a nondenominational "mega church" that my good friends introduced me to. I posted just last week about craving more than one "style" of worship -- so refreshing to hear that you can relate.