Yesterday had an unusual occurrence of Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday on the same day. That happens maybe once in a normal lifetime. I wrote in my journal in the morning that the first half of the day I would honor Valentine’s Day and the second half I would honor Ash Wednesday. The first half included exchanging cards with my valentine, bringing her (actually us) some sweets, and having lunch at a new restaurant, sitting outdoors overlooking water at low tide, gleaming boats, and an island nature preserve. In the early evening I went to worship and had ashes imposed (not placed, but imposed) on my forehead as I heard those simple words reminding me of my mortality.
In between, on a sunny afternoon in the south, there was yet another shooting in a school, a high school in south Florida, a high-ranking high school in a desirable community. By one count this was the 18th gun related incident in this new year, not even two months old. I wrote in this blog about the 11th incident in late January, the one that took several lives and left over a dozen wounded in western Kentucky. Yesterday’s incident took at least 17 lives, most of them young, and left 14 others wounded.
How do we make sense of such a day? I thought Valentine’s love theme played nicely with the first day of Lent, since Lent is about sacrificial love. Yes, Lent is not about giving up chocolate or dropping a few of those winter pounds. It is about the journey of our Lord to the cross, a journey fraught with suffering, denial, struggle, and ultimately death. Lent calls us to take note of great realities and respond in appropriate ways.
I call Ash Wednesday the most honest day of the year, if we can handle its bracing message. We are confronted with our mortality, even as Jesus went to Jerusalem to die. I grew up in a church tradition that ignored Ash Wednesday and Lent. That stuff was for Roman Catholics, we were told. Now I treasure this season, which is so counter to how Americans want life to be, always light and sunny.
I didn’t think the preacher last night was very effective. He did too much explaining and not enough describing. But that moment when I squared eyes with him, heard his words about my being from and returning to dust, then marked an ashy cross on my brow—that was sobering. It was not a nice service. If an Ash Wednesday service is nice, it has utterly failed.
How will I keep this Lent? I don’t fully know. My slow read (I usually am reading several books during any span of time, moving from a chapter in this one to a chapter in that one, and back; in Lent I pick one book to read more slowly) is book of collected writings of Mother Teresa, “Come Be My Light.” These writings, many of them her journal entries, deal with darkness, coming from a woman who radiated the light of God in dark places.
How will I keep this Lent? I am tempted to go out and scream publicly about my nation’s dark agreement with the NRA. Since the slaughter of 20 young school children and six adults caring for them in Newtown CT in Dec. 2012, there have been almost 300 more shootings in our schools, about one a week, every week, for five years and counting. And that doesn’t include mass killings in nightclubs and outdoor concerts. Does anyone think all this carnage is what the Second Amendment was wanting to protect? Does anyone think the Second Amendment was about every American having access to AR-47s? Does anyone think the Second Amendment assured every American of easy access to any and all firearms? Please read the Second Amendment again. The point of amendments to our constitution is that our constitution will need amending from time to time. Three of our top ten mass killings have been in the last half year. And on and on the gunbeat goes.
I believe in prayer and I pray, but I am tired of hearing politicians and officers of the law only send their thoughts and prayers in response in gun inflicted violence. Isn’t something more called for from our government in response to the monstrous evil of our daily death toll from guns?
It is the second day of Lent. From where I am writing, it is a beautiful, sunny morning. Yesterday’s Valentine sweets are gone. Last evening’s ashes have worn off my forehead. I will soon ride my old one-speed, foot-brake, fat-tire bike on the beach. My wife and I will have lunch with a dear friend. In the afternoon I’ll do some reading. In the evening we will watch the Olympics, with casual reading in hand. My life is blessed in so many ways, beyond reckoning.
Valentine’s Day, Ash Wednesday, and a horrendous act of violence in a school yesterday reminded me that life is a precious gift, best honored and used in loving ways.