Beautiful Ash Heap

Ash Wednesday forehead 

Well, here we are. It is Ash Wednesday. Today is the official beginning of Lent, which is a time of self reflection and prayer as Christians prepare for Easter (in some 40+ days). Many will go to church today and receive an ashen mark on their foreheads or hands to signify one’s repentance from sin (see pic above).

In praying about what to say here, I was led to biblegateway.com (a Bible search site) to search dust and ashes. Biblically, dust often denotes the substance of a person, what we are formed from (i.e. God formed Adam from dust) and what we return to (“for dust you are and dust you will return” God to Adam in Genesis 3:19)

Ashes, though, are different than dust. Ashes are what are left over after something has been burned up. As far as ashes goes, this verse from Numbers 19 grabbed my attention:

“A man who is clean shall gather up the ashes of the [sacrificial] heifer and put them in a ceremonially clean place outside the camp. They shall be kept by the Israelite community for use in the water of cleansing; it is for purification from sin.”

Ashes from sacrifices were considered clean and to be mixed with running water and used to purify people from sin. Is there a way to update this a bit? I mean, we don’t sacrifice heifers anymore, do we?

I’m gonna throw out there that as we repent, surrender and sacrifice in accordance with His will, He burns away our dross, all that is not holy, all that is not of Him which ends up creating a puny but pure heap of ash (ummm…that would be us, in purest form). After accepting Him as our Lord and Savior, I believe He not only cleanses us and forgives us and makes us fit for heaven, He also actively goes after the places we keep from Him so that we can be cleansed and forgiven and fit for heaven. Are you scratching your head? It is both/and: paradox. He saves us from sin in one fell swoop and then comes and frees us from sin one stubborn sin at a time. He did and He does….He works hard to get us to where we already are, a beautiful ash heap. Not much, I know, but at least it is pure.

If we go back to Numbers 19, we see (from another verse, not noted here) that the ashes are poured over with running water, not simply mixed into a pot of water. This water then becomes purifying water, cleansing water, water that is used for purification from sin.

Running water reminds me of Jesus saying that those who believe in Him will have streams of living water flowing from within them (the Holy Spirit is referred to here as Living Water–ref. John 7:38) The Holy Spirit is the Living Water–water that isn’t stagnant but that is running, that is moving and active. Hmmm…so, if our pure and puny, but hopefully ever growing ash heap is mixed in with Living Water, the Holy Spirit, then we are allowed to take part in His cleansing activity, we’re allowed to help others turn from sin and find forgiveness and discover their own ash heap comingled with Him, with the Living Water.

Going to church tonight? Already gone? Did you allow the ashes to grace your head or hand? Could they not only remind us of our smallness, but also of what can happen when we let Him burn away our sin and let the Holy Spirit have His way? Could those ashes signify what is and what could be? Dare we call them beautiful? Do we dare consider allowing Him to make us into a beautiful ash heap?

(Contemplative update–need to do yet today. time, time, need more time…)

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