by - February 28, 2020

The Ash Wednesday service I attended was my third. I went alone this year and slipped into the back pew a few minutes late.

This Anglican church is beautiful. I love being in this sanctuary. The floors are red brick with gritty mortar. There are paneless, clear glass windows letting in lots of natural light that bounces off white walls to high vaulted ceilings with exposed beams. It is not ostentatious like an ornate cathedral can be, nor practical like the auditoriums of modern day megachurches (not that either is bad). Instead, both its beauty and purpose are derived from and defined by its tranquil, understated sense of it being a place of unapologetic importance. It's a simple, earthy dwelling place for God and us that is deliberate but without pretense.

The acoustics are amazing, and I love its transepts that flank the nave, molding its congregants cruciform. The terms transept and nave sound too fanciful for this primitive-feeling place, but to speak of its parts without dignified language feels equally wrong. This sanctuary strikes the balance of holy and human so well.

There was no music, except for the a cappella congregational chant of Psalm 51 that sounded ancient and sorrowful, making me think I heard King David's voice sing-chanting with us. ... Yes, Lord. May his confession be mine, also, as I contemplate my sin and its resulting death. Make me always this desperate for your forgiveness.

There was time to think and reflect and be alone with my thoughts and my God in the soft, rhythmic spaces between each steady, intentional event in the order of worship. I always get the sense that God comes close in the slowness and our simply "being present" instead of all the doing we moderns are used to. There was no awkwardness in the moments of silence. Love's presence is the only thing that can create a comfortable lack of awkwardness.

This worship is opposite of the loud, contemporary, demonstrative kind I am accustomed to. When I go to this room and atmosphere, I realize I'm starving to slow down and breathe deeply, unencumbered, in God's presence. I feel his dignity and holiness about me, and I can't drink in enough of it. Everything else falls away.

Worshiping this way reminds me how big he is and how small I am. I'm not saying small is unimportant. But if my modern worship likens me to an exuberant child, then this liturgical worship makes me an infant. I am no less human, no less alive, no less daughter to my father, no less in love relationship.

The difference is the absence of desire to perform for him or the need to seek his approval (Hey, Dad, watch this! Dad, watch. Dad. Dad! ... Watch this!!). An infant need only be held by strong arms. Being together in this room, holding one another, God and me, and me and God, is all that's needed.

I don't know if I would like to worship this way every Sunday, but from time to time, I crave the stripping of 21st century trappings like flesh-toned microphones hung over the ear of dynamic preachers, stages with professional lighting, and shiny over-sized screens. The robes, a real altar, lit candles ensconced in ironwork, the kneeling, and the reciting in unison the thoughtfully prepared words are reminders that God is ginormous, mysterious, and dangerous. It behooves us to be respectful, careful, and tread lightly.

He is God.

And, yes, he's also my father who laughs and loves. He striped the zebra, paints the sky red and purple every evening and morning, and made our bodies to pass their gases so we don't explode. Everything about us is both disgusting and magnificent at the same time. It's all equally flesh and spirit. All the earth sings his holy praise! But I digress...or is breaking into spontaneous praise progress?


Anyway, back to my point. Certainly he laughs. He loves to smile and delight in all his creation and skip and dance with us, the apples of his eye, all. He wants this communion so badly he will send his Son at great sacrifice to bring us home to him.

That's my daddy.

I love that I have a personal relationship with him. He draws me near, and I am not afraid. I run unabashed right up into his enthroned lap like the entitled daughter I am.

But he's also the Maker of the universe. I need to meet with him in solemn dignity sometimes to remember he is that too, because that aspect of him can be just as needful and comforting. While there is familiarity between us, he's not one to be trifled with. It does my heart good to remember anew his power and authority.

He could fling me away from him with a flick of his ear without a thought (Dad-Dad-Dad-Dad— flick.). But he never does. Never. This emboldens me most of the time to run wild and free in his temple, excused for my lack of decorum for being the Maker's heir. I'm grateful I can live in that uninhibited self-expression with him, dance naked before him like David did, and it not be disrespectful. To be wild and free and royal is a beautiful thing, indeed.

But I'm also grateful for this Anglican church to which I am drawn every Ash Wednesday, where he woos me with silent moments pregnant with intimate love. Somehow intimacy is found in both approaches to God and are true worship.

This glorious space, however, is the place where I am invited to hold the truths of both his holiness and mine in the balance of my humanity. I participate every year in this Ash Wednesday service because it reminds me of the exquisite tension yet intertwining cacophony of all these timeless truths:

He is God.
I am not.
But I am his.
And he loves me,
even though he knows me.


Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash            

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