Recently, a few past missioners have contacted me, saying that the ashes they received in Nicaragua, were a powerful transitional experience on their spiritual journey.  Many shared how the “ashes” brought them a new sense of purpose, and awakened something within them.

By way of explanation, I’d like to take a few moments of your time and share something that we typically do on Mission if we are in Nicaragua during the beginnings of Lent.  We would have a prayer service and all would be welcomed to sign one another with ashes, ashes that were a blend of ashes from “home” along with ashes from the dumps and rural areas of Nica.  The ashes signified our willingness to recommit to acting justly, loving tenderly and walking humbly with our God and with one another. (from Micah)

So, if you find the following helpful, please feel free to share.

Ashes to Ashes…really?  Do we really believe this?  Do we really want to live as if we did believe it?

Thomas Kinkade, the famous artist, once said, “I like to think of HOPE as a guiding light for the human heart.  It is the quality that will help you find your way…”

Sr. Joan Chittister says this as she shares her Lenten thoughts:  “Lent is a road that cries for a companion to light the way, to hold us up, to prod us on.”

And recently, Pope Francis referred to the words of the Letter to the Romans as a basis for his Lenten message, “The creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God” – Romans 8:19.

How might these messages influence who we are and how we want to live, not only during Lent, but each day?

My own personal spiritual journey is profoundly influenced by some of my ashes experiences in Nica.

Years ago, I visited the Managua city dump, along with a few others and I personally witnessed a mother sitting in the ashes, in the garbage, holding her dying baby girl.  The baby died in the ASHES of the dump.  ASHES TO ASHES…

Then, another Mission trip and while at the dump, there was a woman who lived in the dump and walked behind us as we drove through in our vehicle.  She was caked in ashes from head to toe and as I turned around to look at her, her eyes cried out to me as if to say:   “Do you see me?  Can you be one with a woman of ashes?”  ASHES TO ASHES.

Then, multiple Mission trips where many of us saw Renata, a woman who lived in the streets of Managua, inhaling ashes, dust, and fumes from nonstop traffic as she begged for food and coins.  Each time, I’d ask to stop and speak with her, she could barely utter sounds because she had inhaled so many fumes over the years that her vocal cords were severely damaged.  She, too, died…virtually rendered voiceless by the ashes of poverty…the streets of poverty.  From ASHES TO ASHES….

And there was also the time on one of our Mission trips, when one of our missioners was really being bothered by the smoke in an area where they were constructing a home shelter.  The woman who awaited this shelter, provided relief for this missioner by taking her last cup of water (that could be seen anywhere around) and pouring it over the fire, rendering it to ASHES.  She poured out her water for another.  ASHES TO ASHES…

What does all of this have to do with Ash Wednesday or Lent?  Growing up, somehow I got the impression that receiving the ashes on Ash Wednesday was a sign of our Christian commitment and it was also a “badge of honor” to wear them so we stood out and others would know what we stood for.  .  However, I’d like to suggest that rather than “standing out” because we have ashes on our forehead, the real invitation of Lent is for each of us to live as one in communion with those whose lives force them to live among the ashes, those whose struggles and level of poverty and sacrifice are beyond anything we will experience.  “What we stand for must match what we say and what we do.  Our actions must match our faith professions, whatever beliefs we adhere to.”  We are called to be “the companion to light the way, to hold others up” as Joan Chittister says.  We are called to truly live as “children of God, to stand beside our brothers and sisters in need” as Pope Francis says.  It is in lifting others from the ashes of poverty, ashes of war, ashes from natural disasters that we  become HOPE.  We are called to be the HOPE for others…to journey with those who need the guiding light of companions, rather than to stand separate from.  In my experience, this is what we are called to stand for, this is what we are called to be, this is how we are called to live.  It is then that the symbolism of ashes will come alive and we will truly reflect who we say we are by how we live!

Each of us, not only during the next 40 days, but each and every day, is called to honor the poor in our world, and by doing so, to honor the God of Justice, the God of Mercy, the God of Hope!  May our spiritual journeys bring us together as one with all of creation.  May your Lenten Journey be one from “Ashes to Ashes”.

Live and be the HOPE of Ashes, the HOPE of companionship, the HOPE of a guiding light for all you meet this week.

Sr. Debbie Blow