Ash Wednesday in Ventura
Haven’t we had Enough with the Ashes Already?
Are you still processing all the emotions brought on by the fires and floods? If so, you’re not alone.
Many of the people in Ventura are still processing all the emotions brought on by the fires and floods. The disasters may be over, but the affects linger and the journey to recovery has just begun. While we work to pull ourselves up out of the ashes and mud, the calendar keeps marching on. Now, it’s time for Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. And we find ourselves asking, didn’t we just do this?
For many of us in Ventura, last December felt a lot like Lent. The Thomas Fire swept through causing fear, panic, destruction and devastation. For weeks we were surrounded by smoke and ash. We spent day after day in prayer. Those of us whose homes escaped the flames, counted our blessings and then turned to support our neighbors who were not so fortunate.
The sense of loss was tremendous, especially for those who lived in and loved any of the five hundred homes that were destroyed. It was nothing like life as usual. It was nothing like any December we had ever known. The smoke, the smell, the ashes, the fear, the tears, the search for lost pets, the rummaging through debris in the hope of finding some small treasure - it made for a very strange and somber Christmas time.
Now we come to Ash Wednesday, and while others throughout the country are talking about how strange it seems that Ash Wednesday has fallen on Valentine’s Day, some of us are are saying to ourselves, “enough with the ashes already!” Why in the world would we want to have ashes smeared on our foreheads and be reminded, “you are dust, and to dust you shall return?”
Ashes seem like the last thing we need more of, but the ashes we receive at the beginning of Lent are unlike the ones brought on by the fire; unlike the ashes we are still dealing with ten weeks later. The ashes from the fire are ashes of destruction. On Ash Wednesday, the church reminds us that ashes are also a sign of creation. In fact, ash is both the beginning and the end of life.
Ash is all that is left where homes once stood, where the memories of a lifetime were once housed, AND ash is all that it took for God to create us in the first place, for the gift of life to begin.
The ash that accumulates on our windshields and walkways, are ashes of loss, fear, and terror. They are infused with the sweat of firefighters, the anxiety of an entire community, and with the prayers of so many of us who felt helpless and vulnerable as we watched our beloved city burn.
The words of Ash Wednesday, “you are dust,” remind us of our mortality, yes, but help us to remember that ash is the stuff from which we were made; the stuff from which all new things are made. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. From the ashes, God created us. We rose up from the dust and God breathed life into us. We are but dust, but quite amazing dust we are!
Though ashes are a sign of great sorrow, they are also a sign of tremendous and wonderful hope. We will mourn. We will clean up. We will start over. We will wrestle with the feelings of vulnerability and helplessness brought on by these disasters. We will pray for our neighbors and help as much as we can. We will work, cry, worry, pray, and…we will rise!
We can’t recover so much of what was lost. We can’t really fix it and things will never be the same again, but, by the grace of God, we will create new things, begin again and find new ways. Ventura is strong and God is with us!
The people of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Ventura invite you join us this Lent, the six weeks of preparation for the coming of Easter.
Ash Wednesday Services are on Wednesday, February 14 at 9:30am, Noon, and 7pm. We will offer Ashes to Go 7:30-9am. Stop by on Loma Vista Road across from Ventura County Medical Center. Come for a quick prayer and the imposition of ashes and start Lent in a holy way. We offer Ashes to Go because we believe that busy people can lead holy lives too.
Lenten Soup Supper
We also invite everyone in Ventura to join us for a simple soup supper on Friday evenings for the next six weeks from 6-7pm at St. Paul’s. Over dinner we’ll discuss the many ways we’ve been affected by the Thomas Fire. We‘ll share our stories, support one another, and continue the journey of recovery. Come tell your fire story. The dinner is free and all are welcome here.
Following supper, at 7pm, all are invited to join us as we walk the Stations of the Cross and trace the steps of Jesus as he suffered for us. Let’s walk together and remember that God meets us in our suffering and blesses us in so very many ways.
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church 3290 Loma Vista Road, Ventura