One of the gifts of being a clergy person is the moments of insight, intimacy, and holiness. That gift is probably one of the primary things that keep me going, especially in the midst of weeks when the vocation feels more full of challenge than full of blessing. The cool thing about the gift is that it often catches me unawares – I am busy just doing my job when all of sudden, wham!, God brings me to my knees with the enormity and privilege that this vocation is.
It happened yesterday as our church celebrated Ash Wednesday. As my mind was distracted with my sermon, the choreography of the liturgy, and the elements of the altar, I suddenly found myself at the part of the liturgy where I spread ashes on each person’s forehead. I had forgotten how incredible that moment is. There I am, rubbing dirty, gritty ash on person’s forehead, reminding them of their mortality. The experience is a visceral, fleshy one. Some foreheads are covered with hair, some are oily after a day of work or activity, and some are polished and made up. Some foreheads are smooth and non-anxious and others are lined with the wrinkles of age or stress.
But even more profound than the tangible piece is the emotional piece of the experience. There is the woman who just celebrated 91 years of life. I find myself wondering how many more years we will share moments like this. There is the parishioner with whom I have shared laughs and tears, who is the prime of their lives, and whose death I cannot fathom. And of course there are the children. There is something profound about reminding a five-year old that they will someday die, whether they fully understand what is happening in the liturgy or not.
After everyone had received ashes, I turned to our acolyte and asked her to give me ashes as well. In this time of growing life inside of me – as I have frequently fretted about the viability of my child outside the womb – I was reminded that neither my coming child nor I are spared from returning to dust someday. Though that sounds like a grim thought, where it ultimately left me was convinced that no matter what happens, God is the firm foundation that I stand firmly upon, grounding me, keeping me humble, and reminding me of what really matters.
That is the other beauty of being a clergy person. As much as I hope liturgies are meaningful to others, I find them equally meaningful to me. Sometimes it is harder than others to worship while leading worship. But this Ash Wednesday, the power and wonder of the liturgy and our God did not escape me. I am grateful today for the powerful reminder of my humanity, the collective recognition of the fragility and preciousness of this life, and the blessing of a community who always gives me a healthy dose of perspective.