I’ve heard people confuse the purpose of the ashes on Ash Wednesday for a long time. “It’s a reminder of how bad we all are,” some will say. “It’s about the fact that we’re mortal and going to die, so we better get right with God,” say others.
When I hear these responses, I hear fear. And as any good psychologist will tell you, any relationship based in fear (even with God) is bound to be unhealthy. (By the way, when the Bible speaks of “fearing God” it is always about awe and reverence—like the response we have looking down at the Grand Canyon for the first time…)
The scripture this week in Matthew 6: 1-6 and 16-21 is a beauty for us as we begin the 40 days of Lent this Wednesday, leading us into a deepening understanding of what Easter is really all about. Jesus talks about how to give alms, how to pray, how to fast: He says that we do these spiritual practices to empty ourselves of the attachment to our small, false selves. However, when we “humble brag” about doing them, we’re basically shooting ourselves in the foot.
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume…but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven…For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Actions that strengthen the ego—the small, false idea of selfhood—build treasures on “earth,” whereas actions that strengthen one’s awareness of divine presence–the True Self Within—the connection we have relationally with everyone and everything on the planet, build treasures in “heaven.”
Wednesday night this week, if you happen to find yourself at a church service where you are being reminded of your human tendencies to break relationship with the goodness and connection we have to each other in the world, remember this as well: You are Beloved. You are also the True Self. Christ nature is in you, delighting in waking up to the present moment. The ashes speak of our attachments to the treasures of earth that keep us from experiencing God’s fullness of expression within each of us.
What to do then to become lighter and clearer and more awake to each moment? Whatever you’re attached to, give that each day in honor of a suffering somewhere in the world.
Is there a worry you have that won’t let you sleep or is making you overeat, overshop, procrastinate, etc.? Breathe in a full acceptance and gentleness toward that worry each time you become aware of it robbing you of your treasure in heaven. And then breathe out, sending a sense of love and peace to everyone in the world who is suffering this day due to that very same worry. You are not alone. Allow your love for all worriers permeate your fear and let you feel loved yourself.
Is there a toxic relationship in your life? Release that person with love. And each time you’re tempted to touch that toxicity through a call or email or text —but don’t, send that love you’re practicing from the power of the ashes to a situation that is currently breaking your heart personally. Send your love to a dear friend who is ill, children being bullied or living in refugee camps, or people being rounded up by ICE today, instead. We are all connected on the level of spirit or energy…notice how it feels to send love from the heaven of your own heart to them.
Is there a substance or habit or hang-up that has you in its grip? Getting professional help may be the first right thing to do. Talk to someone you trust. Just releasing the secret into someone else’s hands is a way of letting the ashes of detachment do their work.
The Bible speaks of the journey of faith being about learning to see from the mind of Christ. This is not work for the faint of heart. It is work for those willing to ask help from the Holy. God, help us awaken this Lent to the treasure of the True Self within our own hearts, that we may see ourselves and the world more as you do.