Today is Ash Wednesday. Around the world today, from every denominational and theological stripe, Christians will gather in churches to smear ashes on their heads, remember the primal turn away from God that blighted us with mortality, and begin to turn their hearts back to God, yet again. Lent is a season of repentance and a humbling of oneself par excellence.
My heart is hopeful this Lent. I have been walking with Jesus since before I can remember. A lifetime spent with him. Saying the sinner’s prayer in children’s church and getting baptized when I was ten felt like – sorry if this offends anyone – a formality to me. “He who has the Son has life” says one of Jesus’ best friends, John. I have always sensed that I “had the Son”, or better – that the Son had me.
In my years of adoring God in the face of Christ, I have experienced much of God. I have gotten lost in wonder and ecstasy with Him that no human being deserves to know. I have “tasted and seen” that the Lord is good. I have broken through to new and wondrous and interesting places with God… found my soul “tipped over” into Him in ways I did not know were possible… felt his life and energy course through my veins like electricity.
On a morning like this, I am deeply aware that there is MORE.
Always more. God, let us remember, is infinite. He is an illimitable universe of goodness whose riches we will never fully know, a bottomless ocean of love and delight, the depths of Whom we will never fully plumb. We take deep breaths and try to swim towards the bottom… but we don’t even get close. He is endless. Self-perpetuating radiant energy. The king “eternal, immortal, invisible…” yes – and in Him we “live and move and have our being”; if we choose, with ever-greater intensity and vitality.
If the Church Mothers and Fathers are right, it is possible for human beings that have their lives so deeply caught up in the love and energy and mystery of the Triune God, that they themselves become positively radiant. The Eastern Church would call it “theosis” – the Divine Life permeating the human life like fire permeates metal by heating it until it is red-hot. I believe that they are right. I believe it because I have experienced it… here and there… in moments… haltingly and hesitatingly at times… I have flown close to the Sun and felt its fire warming me to the core…
But I am, we are, usually content with too little. Enough God to soothe the momentary existential ache so that I can get about my life again. Then back it is to a malnourished existence. Said C.S. Lewis so brilliantly:
It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased. – Weight of Glory
My God, give us an imagination of what a life inundated with You could be like, and then stoke the fires of desire for it.
Ash Wednesday signals a return. But the return is not to drudgery or stale religiosity… no, no, no. It is to Life. Opening ourselves up to being permeated in new and fresh ways to the energy of the Triune God, being heated to the core by the “Sun of Righteousness.”
Joyfully, freely, full-heartedly, we come back to you, our Lord and God. Wrap us up in Life again.