"For he says:Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation." - 2 Corinthians 6:2I love new beginnings. For me, the year still starts in September, right after Labor Day, because I remember the feeling of being seven and eight and ten and eighteen, and going back to school. Too often it was hot, too hot to wear my new clothes, but there were still new teachers and classrooms. Every year September offered a clean slate.
Then comes the beginning of Advent, the new church year to start fresh. Or January 1. Or Ash Wednesday.
I always need a fresh start. No sooner do I think, I've got this, in my life of prayer, in outgrowing my childhood wounds and bad behaviors, than I find myself replacing prayer time with television, forgetting the he's the teen and I'm the grown-up, and eating what's left of the bag of M&Ms. And so it goes. I need another new year.
Ash Wednesday may be my favorite new year's day. A smear of ashes on my forehead suits the feeling of need I feel, the need to admit that I am burnt, spent. I've heard too many Ash Wednesday sermons about making myself a better person, believed too many admonitions to try harder. Ashes say all I need to hear: "From dust you came, to dust you shall return." I got nothing.
Trying harder is a lie, a trap. Get back on the hamster wheel and run faster and then you'll get somewhere. It's an empty promise. The scenery stays the same and I fall off and find myself right where I started.
What is dust supposed to do? "In an acceptable time I heard you, and on the day of salvation I helped you," says the Lord. This is not a call to some new do-it-yourself project. If God is listening to me, to me, what does He hear? I need help. I confess that I don't always know what that even means. I make messes I don't know how to clean up. I need help with that -- less making, help cleaning up. Some days I feel that I myself am the mess, squatting helplessly in a pile of ashes. I trusted and hoped yesterday, but today I doubt, and the future looks bleak. I need help simply to get through, to stand up and brush off the dust and walk a step in any direction.
I need a day of salvation. I need liberation from my own limited vision. Nobody sticks me on the hamster wheel; I climb right on. I scamper into the cage and lock the door behind me. I think I'll be safe there, spinning. I'm going nowhere on my own. Outside it's big and scary and the directional signs are few and obscure. But they are there when I'm willing to slow down and look and listen.
The day of salvation is not some day in an apocalyptic fairy-tale future. The day is now. Apocalypse literally means revelation or disclosure. I can receive that revelation today if I want it. Do I want it? We talk about repentance at Lent, turning around. If I turn around I'm going to see something new, maybe something I never saw before. The risk is that it will change me. Freedom demands risk.
The opportunity is here, today.
What are we waiting for?