Ash Wednesday meditation courtesy of Rev. Kelly Staples, Member-at-Large

Each year on Ash Wednesday, I read Psalm 51 aloud as a personal prayer.

Have mercy on me, O God,

   according to your steadfast love;

according to your abundant mercy

   blot out my transgressions.

Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,

   and cleanse me from my sin.

I don’t often read Psalms aloud when no one is listening. And this is the only day of the year when the word “iniquity” leaves my lips. It’s just not a regular part of my vocabulary.

I used to hate this day, mostly because I’m from Louisiana, where Ash Wednesday marked the end of Mardi Gras season and a return to school. It was easy in that context to think of Ash Wednesday as an “end” ─ as THE end. Images of death and darkness attached to worship. The theme of our own mortality hanging heavily in the air. Everything ends, and Ash Wednesday was a very unpleasant reminder.

Nowadays I see Ash Wednesday as intended, as a beginning. Beyond the beginning of the Lenten liturgical season and a time of readying the faithful for Easter, it is a time to get down to business.

God’s business.

Throughout the New Testament we are confronted with God’s business of lifting up the lowly. God sees those who society overlooks. God values what we take for granted and what we sometimes despise. Justice, equity, healing, and forgiveness do not come cheap for those in privilege, and often we don’t want to invest what is required. It is more important for us to acquire more wealth, more prestige, more power and maintain the illusion that we are the ones ultimately in control.

So, I recommend a three step process, or “business plan” as we begin our Lenten journey.

Step One: Confront our mortality and acknowledge that the worldly things we treasure don’t count for anything when our time comes. 

Step Two: Examine our iniquity, wickedness and sins. What are we doing that is counter to God’s work on Earth? What’s getting in our way of seeing others as beloved children of God?

Pride? Distrust? Vanity? Arrogance? Resentment? Jealousy? Who knows… only we do, and it takes a long look in the mirror and a healthy dose of honesty to admit.

Step Three: Practice. What can we put down (or pick up) to create a practice that brings us closer to God. What do we build (or dismantle) to make this world more like God intends it?

God’s business is hard work. Our iniquities are heavy. Luckily our “boss” is pretty great ─ patient and understanding with our struggle to be our best.

So, let’s begin.

Kelly is a Minister of Word and Sacrament in Grace Presbytery, a wife and mother of two, and an ever-faithful Girl Scout Troup leader and Cookie Mom.