I love the fine adornments of Christianity. Or of the way I choose to practice my Christianity.

Perhaps that isn’t something I should admit to.

Perhaps you would think more of me if I said that I were above all that.

But if you have seen the satisfaction I take in the weight of a thurible in my hands, my childlike delight at the swirling rose petals of Corpus Christi, my joy in the rich music and trumpeting organs, my pleasure in the changing colours of the liturgical year, or even my penchant for getting Bishops to sit in fairy-light strewn thrones, you will know that I speak the truth.

“I don’t like Lent,” my mum said when I was a child (and again many times since I’ve been an adult). “I don’t like how the church is when it’s all stripped and there are no flowers.”

So you will know too that at least I come by it honestly.

Of my love for the sparkle, for the shine, for the holy razzmatazz of the way I choose to worship and all the ephemera that comes with it.

For ephemera is what it is.

The swirling incense will be lost in a scent memory, the rose petals will wilt and fade, the notes from the trumpeting organ will die away, the colours will change and change and change again, and the fairy lights… well, we all know what happens to fairy lights.

As all of that is lost to time and space, what is it that remains with us?

Lent is not a comfortable season for me. But is it a comfortable season for anyone? For is not Lent about looking down into our very bones, into our very souls, and learning whether we can live with what we see there when all the rest is stripped away? If the ephemera is gone, what have we got left?

Those do not strike me as questions that are supposed to be comfortable.

At dinner with some friends this week, the conversation turned to what we learn about ourselves we are forced through circumstance to live without all the fuss and the fancy of our usual daily lives. Two had just returned from a year working in East Africa, away from first-world preoccupations. Another spoke of a solitary walk she had been on, more than five hundred miles, separated for weeks from the privileges and the inconveniences of what we consider normality. In that conversation, there are memories of people the world over, of pilgrimages and of spiritual retreat and, yes, of Jesus Christ in the desert too.

If people talk of finding themselves, we tend to snort a bit. It’s all a bit New Age and buzz word and surely worthy of an eye roll or two. But is it not what we do? We go on these journeys, to the ends of the earth or simply to the depth of our own psyche. And we come back and we are never ever the same.

Lent is not a comfortable season, but Lent is when we find out who we are.

From the crumble of ash on a forehead to the touch of lips on the bare wood of a cross to the empty cavernous space that once was filled with light and life and laughter.

If we take away all the rest, who are we?

Who do we want to become?


A Meeting on a Dusty Road

The pain wracked through his empty belly but he felt it most in his soul.

The stones clawed at his feet and the dust ground itself into the cuts the miles of walking had caused.  Each grain felt as if a sword had wounded him, as if a nail had pierced him, a thorn dug deep or strip of leather had cut into his skin.

He stopped and sat on a boulder at the side of the road, maybe this was all a mistake, this final lonely journey down this dusty road.

Maybe he should just turn right back around and head back to that foreign land, back to those pigs, back to what he had become.  His head fell into his hands, there were no more tears of either pain or self-pity, the only thing left was the dryness of despair and death.

He thought he could hear the tear of the clothes and the weeping that would have once greeted the news of his own death.  His thirst and hunger was playing tricks on him, for he was sure he could hear his name also, in an oh so familiar voice.

He looked up; and fell upon his knees, suddenly the tears did flow, as rushing towards him came not anger, not judgement, nor even disappointment, but un-bounding love.

There in that pool of tears and love each and every pain left him. Each grain of dust which had bitten deeply into his torn feet now reminded him not of the misery of the life he had left behind, but of the joy of the new one that was freely being offered.

Beguiling Dust

Usually, not always but usually, I find myself drawn towards Moses taking off his shoes to walk on holy ground in Lent, this year it has been different.  This year it has been dust.  Why has dust so beguiled me this year?

For over 20 years I have begun Lent by marking the faithful with the sign of the cross in ash on their foreheads, for longer than that I have felt the sign traced on my own forehead as I knelt before the altar.  This year the dust remains like never before.

As I am sure I don’t need to say, we all lead busy lives and this Lent is as hectic as most so in-between the mid-week service and a meeting with a CoS colleague last Wednesday I sighed and thought should really do a quick bit of dusting, only I didn’t.  I ended up drawing crosses in it instead (I tried to take a photograph but there wasn’t enough dust for it to be clear, slightly better in black and white.)

Dust Cross

The dust being cleared away for the Cross.

Is it too late to give up dusting for Lent and take up drawing crosses in all the dust I see?

The Unseen Dust

There are times when our eyes are suddenly opened for us.

Times when we suddenly become aware of things around us.

Things that are always there only tend to go unseen.

We all do it, none of us are immune.

One of those times is when the sun streams through the window and catches the dust in the air.

You glance up from your chair, your book falling to your knees, the warm sun streaming through the window and warming your skin distracting you from the text that has so beguiled you that, instead of being out there in that sun, you sit inside and read.  The sun however is having none of it, the sun reaches into your hiding place and makes you pay attention to it.  And so you are looking up towards the window and between you also lit by the suns warm beams are flecks of dust dancing around the room.  Of course those motes are always there, floating about in the air around us we are just blind to them, unaware of their presence as we go about our daily activities.  Oh yes somewhere we know they are there but they only come into view in the light of the sun, it is only then our attention is drawn to them, only then we notice them in our midst.

Flecks of dust hidden in our midst, unseen expect by the light of the sun.

What else is hidden right before us, right in our midst?

Tightrope Walk of Lent

A speck
a mote
a fleck
an iota

One particle of dust among a cosmos full of particulates.
That is what we are in the vast sum of things.


That is what we are in God’s eyes.

The mystery, the awe, the wonder of the tightrope walk of Lent.

We are but dust and to dust we will return.

We are but dust and to God we will return.

We are but dust, irritating, choking, obscuring dust.

We are but dust the beginnings of a pearl.

The tightrope walk between what we are and what we will be.