Ash Wednesday: The day after

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At the end of the previous post, I said that the Ash Wednesday ashes are different. Instead of trapping a person, they free them. They symbolize the process of repentance. Now repentance isn’t simply about feeling guilty but about conversion, turning around to new life. We receive the ashes just as we receive the gift of forgiveness through Christ.

The kind of redemption God offers isn’t just washing away the (small-s) sins. It’s also about being freed from that other side of sin that I mentioned. It can mean liberation from the hell of being trapped by despair (from the Latin despero, “I have no hope”). That freedom is offered, and we can choose to accept it. That’s not always an easy process. To use the previous example of depression, I find it so hard to hold on to even a thin strand of hope, but at least some part of me knows that I can trust God’s unfailing love.

I wish I could say that faith in that gift will make the pain go away, but I can’t. Healing doesn’t always happen overnight. Anyone in recovery can tell you that it’s an ongoing process. We sometimes face setbacks. We might not even see the end of the healing in this lifetime, but we are on that path regardless.

Recently, I visited the Smithsonian Natural History Museum’s exhibit “Nature’s Best Photography” and saw this photograph from last year of Mount St. Helens. The volcano was in the background with a field of wildflowers surrounding the stumps and logs of burned-out trees. Even the destructive ash that once trapped a mountainside became fertile soil for new life. Some reminders of the devastation remain just like the wounds on the resurrected body of Christ. Even the remnants of the pain that we bear can be redeemed.

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