Wednesday, February 26
The Beauty of Brokenness - Ash Wednesday
Back in 1990, I read and was moved by Robert Bly's great book about men, their feelings, struggles, work and loves: Iron John. I was 35 years old when I read, on page 81, "Despite our Disneyland culture, some men around 35 will begin to notice how many of their dreams have turned to ashes. A young man dreams he will be a race driver, a mountain climber, he will marry Miss America, he will be a millionaire by 30, he will get a Nobel Prize in physics by 35, will be an architect and build the tallest building ever. He will get out of his hick town and live in Paris. He will have fabulous friends... and by 35, all these dreams are ashes."
Today is Ash Wednesday. Perhaps you know dreams turned to ashes. In Church we are reminded that "you are dust, and to dust you will return." The big dreamer part of you is housed in a body that is slowly breaking down, returning to the mere stuff that it is. For a season of 6 weeks, as if God knew we couldn't bear it for much longer, we fix our attention on the ashes, our morality, our finitude, our disappointments, our guilt and brokenness. It's not a negative season. It's just the truth about us - and once we embrace that brokenness, the way the world and people disappoint, ourselves include, then we begin to move toward healing, and a deep, abiding sense of God's mercy, goodness, presence - and hope.
Bly's title is from an old fairy tale the Grimm Brothers passed along to us. Hunters keep disappearing in the forest near the king's castle. People stop venturing in. But one day an unknown hunter shows up and asks "Anything dangerous to do around here?" The King tells him about the forest. He replies "That's the sort of thing I like." So he plunges in, alone, taking only his dog. They finally come to a pond. A hand reaches up from under the water, grabs the dog, and pulls it under. "This must be the place." He returns to the castle, gets a bucket, and starts bucketing out the water from the pond. Long, slow work. Finally there's a big guy with reddish hair, wild, untamed: "Iron John."
It's a parable about the way we avoid the hard work of going deep into ourselves and thus deep with God. We are fearful of what we might find, so we avoid, stay busy, stick to our diversions. But Lent is the time to do some bucketing, to see what's really under there. It's a little scary, but only when we befriend the hidden self, the wild untamed one within, can we discover who we really are in and with God.
Join me in some hard work this Lent. Poke around in the brokenness. See how God is there. As Leonard Cohen sang, "Everything has a crack in it. That's how the light gets in."
Ash Wednesday services
are at 11am and 7pm today.
My sermon Sunday on the Transfiguration is on YouTube - or you can download a podcast!