I confess that I do not regularly attend worship services. No pew is recognized as the place where Nancy sits every Sunday morning. More than likely, someday I will resume weekly attendance, but for now attending church feels more like a religious exercise than spiritual practice. However, there is something about Ash Wednesday, which begins the Western Christian season of Lent, culminating gloriously on Easter Sunday that tugs at my heart. There is something about the imposition of ashes in the shape of the cross on my forehead that draws me. I need the reminder of human mortality, my mortality. I need to be drawn into a season of prayer and fasting and abstinence. I need to mourn all that has been lost and will be lost and to repent the ways I have contributed to the darkness in the world.
And so yesterday, Ash Wednesday, I worshipped at Holy Wisdom Monastery not far from our home. Holy Wisdom Monastery is an ecumenical monastic community in the spirit of St Benedict, and it is where I am most drawn to take off my shoes and kneel in recognition of all that is sacred. Once again I was drawn to be part of the ancient ritual, a ritual done in community, but there was an additional reason to participate in worship yesterday. The Nun on the Bus was speaking at the service.
Sister Simone Campbell, a lawyer and executive director of NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby and a sister in the order, Sisters of Social Service, was all over the news during the presidential campaign. Even before Paul Ryan (R-WI) was selected as Romney's running mate, Sister Simone was protesting the injustice of the Ryan Budget. To raise public awareness, she and several other sisters boarded a bus and undertook a 9 state tour to speak out against the budget "because it harms people who are already suffering." Perhaps you recall her eloquent speech at the Democratic National Convention this past September or you may have seen her interviewed by Stephen Colbert or Bill Moyers. A national celebrity, but more than that she is someone who lives the Gospel and who is a visible reminder of Isaiah's words as found in yesterday's Gospel, Luke 4: 18-19
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release
to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.
Sister Simone is someone to listen to, and I didn't want to miss the opportunity. She expressed her conviction that "something is afoot;" something that involves being drawn deeper into the mystery of the power of the Spirit.
I am not sure in what ways I am to be an expression of the power of the Spirit, but moving slowly forward to receive the ashes in this annual ritual, as millions of seekers have done over the centuries, I felt connected to that power and I felt Spirit alive within me. Thanks Be to God.