Ashes (Week 1 #ReclaimHolyWeek #BlackLivesMatter)

Alfred Manessier Les Jardin des oliviers Lithograph
For those in the Christian tradition, today marks the beginning of Lent. For the next 7 weeks, Restoring Pangea will be offering weekly reflections during the Lenten season as a resource for those who wish to prepare themselves to participate in the #ReclaimHolyWeek #BlackLivesMatter project. While Lent is indeed a time for Christians to discipline their bodies through the spiritual practice of fasting, Lent should also be understood as a season for Christians to place their bodies in positions where they actively resist injustice. Piety without action looks like a “whitewashed tomb” (Mt. 23:27); social-radicalism devoid of contemplation is akin to a “cut flower without nourishment.”1 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s process of “self-purification” accurately perceives the nexus between activism and spiritual discipline. Direct action against injustice comes on the heels of prayer, meditation, fasting and a commitment to nonviolence. My hope is that my writings for the next 6 weeks provide an appropriate platform for this process of self-purification in anticipation of direct action during Holy Week.

Ashes

Ash Wednesday is a somber time of reflection for Christians. The tune of Ash Wednesday is usually a song played in a minor key. This is apparent in the litany where those gathered cry out in dereliction, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Beyond lip service lies the cross of ashes, placed on worshipers foreheads–it signifies the frailty of human life. “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” goes the imposition.

As I reflected during the service early this morning, I focused on the symbolic nature of the ashes. Humans come from the earth and, when everything is said and done, we will return to the earth (Gen. 3:19). Some say that death is the great equalizer. In a world where the powerful exert control over the powerless, we are told that we can rest easy in the fact that all “return to dust.” This truism fails to address the deeper question that has come onto the national scene since August 9, 2014. All people “return to dust,” yes, but why is it that some are “unlucky” enough to return to dust at such a young age? Why is that certain people are far more likely to return to dust based on the neighborhoods they find themselves in? Why is it that, depending on your skin color, your encountering someone with a weapon may result in your family and friends remembering all too soon that you came from dust, and to dust you will return?

As we begin this Lenten season, we here at Restoring Pangea would like to invite and encourage you to participate in “self-purification.” This purification is not done out of self-righteousness, but instead, it is our sincerest desire that this self-purification will lead to action where you and your church community #ReclaimHolyWeek. The fast that God deems acceptable is not for show or to celebrate some sense of piety (Matt 6:1-6, 16-18) but rather the best (בחר bachar) fast to the LORD is one where the yoke of injustice is broken so that the oppressed might go free (Is. 58:1-12).

*Prayer for the week*
Lord Jesus Christ
you were poor and miserable
imprisoned and abandoned2

*Passages for the week*
Isaiah 58:1-12
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18
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Josiah R. Daniels

END NOTES:

[1] Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination, 8.

[2] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I Want to Live These Days With You, 224.

Art Alfred Manessier. Suite de Pâques, Le jardin des oliviers (Easter Suite. Olive Garden) (1978).

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