LENT: Ash Wednesday
“You are dust, and to dust you will return.” Who wants to really face this reality? Apparently, many of us since Ash Wednesday services are some of the most crowded of the year. It is a beautifully human ritual – feeding our deep need for meaning and purpose, as well as our desire for community. Standing in line for ashes, we wait to hear those solemn words directed at us personally, and we hear them in the company of others. We are all in this together.
Today – and every Wednesday – we at the Green House offer a free Café to folks who are hungry and homeless. We strive to create a very healthy meal made of mostly vegetables given to us by generous farmers in our area. Today we will dress up the lentil soup with fresh tomato salsa, and the rutabaga fries with homemade ranch dressing. We will pick lettuce from our garden. There will be fresh bread. All of this bounty spills over from the generosity of our community, created in a joyful, hurried kitchen full of people choosing to spend their Wednesday morning this way.
Some of those in the dining room will be experiencing the flip side of this. Many of them are unemployed, but have spent the morning waiting at the labor pools for work that didn’t come. Some are addicts and alcoholics who fell into addiction trying to cope with serious trauma. Some struggle with mental illness or physical infirmity. People come because they’re hungry, and they come for the company, and sometimes they come just to get a break from the cold or the heat or the rain. They are not necessarily experiencing “abundance” in their day-to-day life, and we try our best to help them experience a little here at the house – with second and third helpings and a plate to go.
Yet this sharing, in itself, is not necessarily compassionate. Compassion – to feel with – is not created in a “have and have-not” world, even in our own home. We can easily fall into pity, and charity. We can see ourselves “as blessed,” and serving the “less fortunate.” We can even believe as some have described it, that we are blessing them. And then, one hopes, we can begin to see the truth in St. Vincent de Paul’s warning that the poor have to forgive us for the bread we give them.
They have to forgive us because It belongs to them already. It comes from the earth’s abundance – “fruit of the vine.” We “volunteers” may have jobs our culture deems important and hidden addictions and illnesses and losses that we are not forced to air in public. But we, the ones holding the soup pot today, are no less dust than those who come with empty bowls. The ashes of the first day of Lent are a reminder that we are here together for just a little while, that we are all lowly and in need of grace and love. We are to share. What does not happen in this world of Haves and Have-Nots, we are to bring about in the Kingdom of God – for the little time we are here together.