Thursday, February 21, 2013


     My son-in-law Thom Rhodes is an excellent writer, having a broad background as a journalist. He is a person of many talents,  a man of strong faith, and an active member of the First Presbyterian Church of Cooperstown, New York, where his wife Elsie (our daughter) is pastor. He was the logical person for me to invite to submit the first guest article on my blog, while I cam recovering from total knee replacement surgery.I hope you enjoy his  beautifully personal and timely Lenten meditation as much as I did.   .
Thomas Rhodes

     Sometimes, you find yourself taking a surprisingly different road on your Lenten journey.
     Last week, I was rushing our ten-year-old son to an ecumenical Ash Wednesday service, which was taking place at the local Methodist church. My wife, a Presbyterian minister, was preaching at the service. Our church choir was providing the music.
     I was ready for an hour of stillness. I was ready to begin my 40-day Lenten journey. I was ready for my personal Camino de Santiago de Compostela – the legendary “Way of St. James” Christian pilgrimage from France-to-Spain ( Raised Lutheran (ELCA), I love the season of Lent, the preparation, the wilderness, the stark reality of life, death, death on the cross and the eager, lean-forward anticipation of a resurrection on Easter morning. Nothing is more satisfying than a powerful Good Friday.
     I was ready for the ashes.
     At least I thought I was.
     My son wasn’t in an Ash Wednesday mode. He wasn’t ready for anything resembling stillness.
     Au contraire.
     As we approached the church, he was energetically light-sabre dancing through the parking lot. I’m not sure how many imaginary Sith warriors he “offed” on the way to worship, but clearly my young Jedi Padawan was setting the bar pretty high for any Padawan who would follow. My son, God love him, was in an “anything-but-a-quiet, meditative, Ash Imposition service” mood.
     Maybe he was simply reflecting my utter lack of preparation for the journey.
     Entering the front doors of the church, we quickly realized that worship was not being held in the large sanctuary, but in the intimate setting of “The Chapel.” Looking through the crack of the doorway, it was clear that worship had begun. The choir members were robed and in place. Seating was limited. There seemed to be no back row in which we could hide. Moreover, the only entrance  to the chapel was to the immediate left of the pulpit, where the pastor was already standing. There would be no quiet, unassuming entrance.
     With an energetic 10 year old at my side, there would be no sanctuary in this tiny sanctuary.
     There would be no imposition of the ashes – at least not onto my forehead. Not on that night. I sighed, took my young Jedi’s hand and drove to the grocery store to get some milk, for there was no milk at our Inn.
     In the store, we found ourselves surrounded by Christians of all sizes who had crosses of ash imposed on their foreheads. It seemed as if just about everyone I encountered had the mark of the burned palms on his or her forehead. Some crossed ashes were barely visible, while others looked brushed on as if for maximum visibility, as if imposed by a paint roller.
     Suddenly, I felt left out. I felt like an outsider. I felt naked, different, as though something was missing, as though the gospel train left the station and I didn’t get on board.
     Yet somehow, this all felt perfectly Lenten. Is this how Jesus felt when he was all alone in the wilderness? When he was alone in the Garden of Gethsemane? When he was abandoned and alone on the cross? When he was alone in the tomb?
     Driving home, I looked in the rear-view mirror at my son and told him I am giving up facebook for Lent. Arriving home, I quickly opened up my facebook page and posted, “I’m giving up facebook for Lent. See ya in 40 days. John 3:16.”
     I logged on then logged out.
     As I deactivated my account, the faceless facebook administrator told me of all of my online “friends” who would miss me. As if to pile guilt upon guilt, my faceless administrator listed each and every one of my friends, name after name after name after name. “They will miss you,” over and over and over.
     As my index finger clicked “deactivate,” I felt the yoke of social media lifted from my shoulders. I felt free.
     Is this how it felt? Perhaps – if only in a superficial 21st Century way. But it sure feels like a good first step onto an age-old path.

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