No typo there.
I didn’t mean to write Ash “Wednesday” — the start of the forty days leading up to Easter. The day marked by a sign of the cross on the forehead, often in ashes, as a sign of penance and witness.
So what is Ash Worship?
More fundamentally: What are ashes? How are they created? And what purpose do they serve?
Ashes are produced whenever something burns. But are all fires created equal?
Some fires are cozy. We light them for warmth and comfort, camaraderie and romance… perhaps even passion.
Some fires are cleansing. Intentionally lit and carefully monitored, to clear land for what we consider a “higher” use.
Some are wildfires. Ignited through Your acts, Lord, or through human carelessness (our own or someone else’s). They rage out of control, consuming everything in their path.
Some fires are called arson. Deliberately set by those seeking “thrills” or vengeance… perhaps even illicit financial gain.
In every case, ashes are the remains of whatever has burned up. The residue of whatever fueled the fire. A tangible testimony — of good or harm — that provokes a response in us.
Isn’t the same true for “fires” of the soul, Lord? Some may be cozy and cleansing. But others are wildly destructive, leaving us charred from the inside out.
Soul Fires started by our own naivete or negligence. Soul Fires started by the selfish (sinful) actions of others whose choices shatter our hearts and our hope. Soul Fires we all too offen “fan into flame” by our own misguided thinking.
How are we to respond to these kinds of fires, Lord? And when does our response become Ash Worship?
“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” (2 Corinthians 7:10)
Sorrow is a real and right response to loss, whatever that loss may be. Loss of love… or a loved one. Loss of dreams or an “expected” future. Loss of innocence. Loss of control (or the illusion that we ever had it). Loss of security, as we had defined it. Loss of hope.
There is a grief that comes with loss that cannot — and should not — be denied. A grief that should be acknowledged and experienced. A grief that honors the memory of what The Fire took from us… and bathes our wounds with tears.
But such healthy grief is not meant to consume us, like The Fire consumed whatever we are grieving. “There is a time for everything… a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3:1a,4). And we will miss that future laughter and dancing whenever we start to worship the ashes.
Whenever we build a Monument to our Misery.
Whenever we make an Altar out of our Anguish.
What do we “sacrifice” at that altar? The Truth about You, Lord, and/or The Truth about ourselves? The Freedom that You died to purchase for us? (Because we are stuck in — and holding onto — the lies that keep us in bondage?)
What ashes are we still worshiping? What can — and will — we do, even today, to shift more of our focus in worship to You, Lord?
Haven’t You given us The Answer, Lord, in Your very own words?
“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to proclaim good news to the poor… to comfort those who mourn, and provide for those who grieve… to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes…” (Isaiah 61:1,3)
Where do we wear a crown, Lord? On our heads — the “home” of our brains, our thoughts and beliefs. The very place You declare is The KEY. The place where real Victory is gained.
“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5)
One third of the treasure known as Yellowstone National Park burned in 1988. Now, 27 years later, the regeneration some thought was all but impossible is happening!
Regeneration. Restoration. Beauty from ashes.
It’s what You do, Lord. What only You can do.