A Transfiguration moment on Ash Wednesday

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The reredos at Christ Church Cathedral, St. Louis

I had an interesting combination of events in these past ten days.  One has to do with the fact I had an amazing moment of grace happen 2 weeks ago in CPE (and I’m not yet ready to blog about it yet, because I’m still mulling over how to tell the story.)  The other was the few days leading up from this past Monday to Ash Wednesday.

The short version I’ve journeyed on a strange trip, starting with a death that not only rocked a family and everyone who knew the person, but it rocked a community.  I moved straight from there to Fat Tuesday, to Ash Wednesday and Lent.  I was flat-out too tired to even participate in our parish’s Fat Tuesday pancake supper, I stayed home and slept.  I was weary, fatigued, and my batteries were spent.  I knew I had to take care of myself first.  Turns out I needed the sleep because I was about to have 5 seconds of the most incredible experience I’ve had in my formation process to date.

I have to admit, a great deal of this past year and a half I’ve been a postulant to Holy Orders has been shrouded in darkness.  I seldom get much of a glimpse of what “Maria the priest” looks like.  I tend not to ask my friends if they’ve seen her, because it sounds too much like trolling for compliments.  So mostly I just sit in anxious silence and wonder, and hope I’m not screwing it up too much.

I was acolyte for our Ash Wednesday service.  It is my priest’s custom after the prayer over the ashes to smudge the acolyte first, and the acolyte smudges the priest.  I am no stranger to this–I’ve been acolyte on Ash Wednesday before.  I am also no stranger to powerful things happening on Ash Wednesday–see this blog post from my old blog in 2010.

Yet this time, when I smudged her forehead with the sign of the Cross, I suddenly found myself catapulted into what can only be described as a “Transfiguration moment.” I know it was not only in my own head, because one of my friends in the parish said to me, “I noticed it.” That person must have seen or felt something bigger than the simple image of what was happening on the chancel.

What happened, in the face of five seconds, was a lightning-fast slideshow of images where I was the priest..baptizing babies, blessing dogs, saying the prayers at the bedside at the moment of death, presiding at the altar.  And it was gone just as quickly as it appeared.  I kept wishing it to come back as people were coming forward to get ashes, but in my heart I knew it wouldn’t re-appear.

These days I am keenly aware I’m so deep in the middle of my process, I barely see the light at either end of the tunnel.  I kind of needed those five seconds.

When I got home from services, I was blessed to see the link to my bishop’s Ash Wednesday homily here. It’s one of the best ones I’ve heard on this day ever.  It reminded me that Lent is all about my creature-ly-ness and that, despite the discomfort it creates inside myself, there is holiness and there are holy moments.  It is far too easy to see Lent through penitentiary lenses.  To be reminded of the holiness and awe of the light of Christ piercing through the darkness is a view we can only see if we remember just how mortal we are.

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