I’m the first to admit the Greek this fall at seminary has me more than a little worried. Until just a few years ago, Koine Greek (New Testament Greek) was taught as a summer intensive prior to the first year of seminary. That doesn’t happen anymore.
So, I got the text and decided to get a jump on it this summer.
If you assumed that I haven’t studied a foreign language in many years (decades!), then you nailed it. And this language includes an entirely new alphabet – even more challenging.
So I reached out to a few fellow incoming seminarians, and it turns out I’m not alone.
Later this week, we’ll have our first online study group, focusing on the Koine alphabet. This little video should prove helpful. It’ll be on a loop in my workspace for the next little while. Thank you Danny Zacharias!
All are from the dust, and to dust all return ~ Ecclesiastes 3:20
Dust you are and to dust you shall return ~ Gen 3:19
My family lived lots of places when I was growing up. I recall geography impacting the kinds of comments ashy-faced kids would hear at school. When we lived where many of our neighbors came from Hispanic or Irish or Italian backgrounds, everyone assumed ashes meant you were Catholic. When we were in the middle of the country where those of Norwegian or German descent were more common, of course ashes meant Lutheran. And no matter where we lived, those ashes were a sign that spring break was just around the corner.
But that was then.
In recent years, more often than not, kind folks quietly let me know I’ve got a smudge on my face. Or occasionally a curious person will straight out ask why I’ve got black stuff on my face.
So, what do those ashes mean anyhow?
Ash Wednesday is the Wednesday of the seventh week before Easter and the first day of Lent. The day is named for the practice of imposing ashes in many Lutheran and Catholic congregations.
Using ashes as a sign of repentance is an ancient practice, and mentioned in the Bible (Jonah 3:5-9; Job 42:6; Jeremiah 6:26; Matthew 11:21). The early Christians adopted the use of ashes from Jewish practice as an external mark of penitence.
Ashes symbolize several aspects of our human existence:. Ashes remind us of God’s condemnation of sin, as God said to Adam in Genesis 3:19.
Ashes suggest cleansing and renewal. They were used anciently to cleanse in the absence of soap.
Ashes mark out anticipation of the new life of Easter. Even on Ash Wednesday, this most penitential day, we receive ashes in the form of the cross, the same symbol placed on our bodies with water in our baptism.
Ashes remind us of the shortness of human life, for it is said as we are buried into the ground or as ashes are placed in a columbarium.
Ashes are a symbol of our need to repent, confess our sins, and return to God.
So the ashes on my forehead connect me to the earliest of days of our church. I join those of long ago in repentance, cleansing and renewal. And I have an opportunity for quiet witness, should anyone ask me about that smudge on my face.
Our Earth is amazing in its simplicity and complexity. I reflect on the variety of sustenance available to us, each appropriate to the unique geography and season that favors its growth. Of course, we’ve figured out how to work around that. I purchase mid-winter strawberries flown in from another continent. I enjoy avocado while living hundreds of miles from where the nearest tree can grow. I go online and order my favorite British biscuit or lobster from the other side of the country.
Today I am grateful for these gifts, for the luxury of the variety found in my pantry. I’m aware of the resources expended for my benefit.
Thank you Lord, for the gift of ashes and dirt. Amen.
Sincere thank you to The Rev. Christynn Koschmann who provided the graphics and a fantastic Carbon Fast Calendar. The other resource you may see evidence of is the Lenten Devotional For the Beauty of the Earth, by Leah Schade, which you can use any year you like.
Today is Shrove Tuesday, Mardis Gras, Carnivale, Pancake Day. According to Wikipedia, the word shrove is a form of the English word shrive, which means to obtain absolution for one’s sins by way of Confession and doing penance. Thus Shrove Tuesday was named after the custom of Christians to be “shriven” before the start of Lent. How about that?
So Shrove Tuesday was the last hurrah before the forty days of the fasting and repentance of Lent that began on Ash Wednesday.
In New Orleans and Rio and elsewhere, that last night before the start of Lent is one massive party. I imagine the start of the Ash Wednesday fast is facilitated by celebrants inability to ingest anything at all. And who doesn’t find a hangover motivation for repentance?
Back on track…
I travel in tamer circles these days; we eat pancakes on Shrove Tuesday. Back when, that was a way to use up all the eggs and sugar and butter in the larder. Why? Because they couldn’t be consumed during the Lenten Fast. These days, Shrove Tuesday provides an opportunity for fellowship and youth group Pancake Diner fundraisers in church basements everywhere.
So, I’ll eat pancakes for dinner tonight. But then Lent begins.
Not giving up chocolate or wine this Lent.
Nor am I participating in a Facebook fast.
I’ll eat fish, but only because I like it. I’ll eat meat, too and maybe some Girl Scout cookies.
I’m going in a different direction this time around.
Did you know the very first Earth Day was fifty years ago – in 1970? That’s enough of a nudge for me. This year for Lent, I’ll be focused on Creation Care – doing my little bit to be a better steward of this orb we all inhabit.
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John share in their gospels, over and over, the importance of Creation. Jesus used images from nature in his parables. He prayed on mountains and in the wilderness. Reference And Earth testified the resurrection of Jesus with sunrise and earthquakes. Caring for God’s creation is strongly connected to my faith and I’m looking forward to spending time in the Bible with this focus. I’ll be combining that with practical application of care for our Earth. I hope you’ll join me on this hourney.
I was fortunate to come across The Rev. Christyn Koschmann’s (of the Central States ELCA Synod) Carbon Fast Devotional. So she gets all the credit for the graphics and verses.
Note, Lent is 40 days, but you’ll see more posts in this Lenten practice of mine. Because of the Sundays. Did you know the 40 days doesn’t include Sundays?
Sincere thank you to The Rev. Christynn Koschmann who provided the graphics and a fantastic Carbon Fast Calendar. The other resource you may see evidence of is the Lenten Devotional For the Beauty of the Earth, which you can use any year you like.
Its no secret that I’ve been a hospice volunteer for over a decade now. I continue to see my little piece of involvement in end of life care as a privilege and a gift. I know that when my feelings change, it’ll be time to move on to something else. But I’m not there yet. Even after all these years, sometimes I experience a goosebumps moment.
Recently, I regularly spent time with a bedridden patient and sat with her while her husband got out of the house and ran a few errands. He’d visit with me a bit, make sure she was settled, assure her he’d be back shortly. Then he’d take off to take care of the little things that we don’t even think about. Little things become a logistical issue when you’re a full-item caregiver. While he was gone, she and I would visit until she tired, then she’d rest. I’d stay close, within touching range, in her line of sight, and I’d read a book until he returned. She always woke up when he returned.
One visit, while she was sleeping, he initiated a frank conversation about her death and his own life after she was gone. He said he’d be okay if she just died in her sleep one night, and that their sons would be around to keep an eye on him. And he promised me that he’d take care of himself, that he’d be okay.
The next week, while he was out, she spoke to me about how her husband and sons would manage without her. She said she knew they’d be heartbroken and lonely, but that it would be okay anyhow. She told me she was finally going to see her son again – the one who’d died in a horrific accident decades ago. She said she’d see me again, but neither of us said “next week”. She drifted off to sleep and I stayed by her side, holding her hand feeling bones and warmth and heartbeat beneath delicate skin . Her eyes fluttered open as her husband returned from his appointment. This tiny little bedridden woman flashed me to most brilliant smile then turned her gaze towards him.
We chatted for a bit, then my visit time ended and I prepared to leave. I leaned down over the hospital bed, she and I shared a gentle hug. I turned towards her husband, standing right there. Instead of releasing me from our hug, he pulled me closer, over to her bed. He placed my hand on her shoulder. He said we were going to sing together, God Be With You Till We Meet Again. I’m sorry to admit I didn’t know the words. So I hummed along and listened as she gathered enough breath to get a few of the lyrics out. He, a man very near his ninth decade, sang with the voice of youth. He sang with strength, and sorrow, and utter faith and trust. We ended the song with tears in our eyes, and we said goodbye.
Then, as he did every single week, he asked if I’d taken a look at the literature he’d left for me. Photos and testimonials and pamphlets for a miracle health product which had saved his life. Yes, it was an amway product pitch, each and every visit. That slightly awkward multi-level marketing opportunity provided us a transition from this confidential little life story back to the day-t0-day of the world around us. Plus, you know, it was an amazing opportunity, too.
As I headed towards my car, I heard the click of the deadbolt, just as I’d heard each and every week since I’d starting seeing these two. In the car, I paused before starting the ignition. I reminded myself that goodbyes are part of the deal when spending time with people who are dying. I took a few breaths, gathered my composure, and mustered up some patience for the inevitable highway traffic I was about to face. And I drove off.
Later, I contacted the hospice office and asked for an update on the patient’s condition. I was told that her decline continued but there was no evidence that her passing was imminent. Of course, we never can tell for certain, but there were no changes that would suggest she would die very soon.
But she knew. And he knew. And so did I.
We knew I’d never again enter that overheated room, where she liked the drapes closed for privacy. That I wouldn’t hear about their farm, long since sold, or sift through and admire photos of children and grandchildren. I knew that I’d never again gently deflect his requests for me to share marketing materials with all my friends. We knew that we’d not have another opportunity to thank one another for the gift of our time together.
And she passed away, quietly, in her sleep.
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