Ash Wednesday morning sitting in the chapel of St. Stephen’s, Fairview, watching the beautiful snow fall at different paces, listening to the familiar words of the Ash Wednesday Liturgy I became mystically aware of my own sinfulness. The many patterns of sin true for all of us were true for me as well and stuck out like a beautiful cardinal against the backdrop of a grayish winter day. Just as easily my consciousness wished and willed them to fly away in search of roosting somewhere else, but that wasn’t what Jesus had in mind for Ash Wednesday.
All sin, the monk said, points towards good things. My deepest yearning is for love; a special love desired at a young age and absent; a special love that becomes the object of a lifelong search. The objective of sin is always good. It’s the methodology that causes problems. Throughout my life this yearning, perhaps placed by God; more likely initially placed by God and further fueled with desire in part due to my family of origin; this yearning, this vast sea of emptiness became an obsession in hopes that somehow and miraculously the yearning would be removed through the right therapy, the best spiritual experience, or the perfect relationship. This didn’t come from the outside, however, this all came from the inside and as Jesus says it’s what comes from the inside that causes us difficulty. Imagine the pressure on the people around me.
Sins are old friends. We tend to have the same ones and repeat them over and over again. If you have a yearning as I do, then you know the many ways one might go about trying to satisfy such a vacuum. Mind you; we don’t want to repeat them it’s just that our needs sometimes outweigh our wisdom and we crack; we break and unbeknownst to us we are broken more. That’s what unrecognized sins do: they break ourselves from the inside out.
Once we see the sins we repeat again and again and once we listen to the sins of others we learn that we have much in common with our brothers and sisters in this life and in this world. “All sin and fall short of the glory of God.” One author said these sins are like a rock we carry around with us wherever we go. Others look at us and wonder why we just don’t drop the rock. Well, first of all, we might not be able to see the rock we are carrying; or we may be more comfortable with the rock albeit it burdensome; or we’re convinced no one’s sins are as great as our own. Ironically we can even be special in our sinfulness.
The yearning will not go away and thus the beauty of the ashes. Jesus’ redemption now helps me see that the yearnings of my heart are an essential part of who I am; Jesus actually loves me through and with the yearnings. And His redemption is that there are other ways to live with the yearnings of the human heart that don’t break us and don’t involve sin. But to get there one must first be honest and while the snow was gently falling outside St. Stephen’s in Fairview the Beloved sat next to me, held my hand, and said, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free”. There was a loud sound; beware of falling rocks.
Canon Al Johnson