Today we wear the ashes of our impotence and mortality. It is a day to remember who we are and who we are not. Today we bring our unedited selves to God so that we start this journey to the cross in the most honest way possible.
I remember the first time I participated in an Ash Wednesday service. The reflective music, scripture, and words prepared me to receive the mark of the cross in ashes on my forehead. I felt branded, labeled, and unmasked. It was like someone had ripped off a disguise I had been wearing and they could see into my very soul.
Now I understand that this humbling is necessary. Unless I recognize that I am not self-made or self-formed, I cannot stand before the cross in honest penitence and petition. It is the gutting of every excuse and rationalization. It is the detoxification of everything my cultural world has burdened me with.
When I allow this unlayering, God bathes me where no other cleansing process can touch. At the core of my soul, I am ready to hear in a way my daily rhythms do not make possible.
Whether you attend an Ash Wednesday service or not, find some quiet place. Leave your achievements, your goals, your excuses, your griefs; anything that has more power over you than hearing what God has to say. This is the way to the cross. This is the same humbling Jesus found in the wilderness that marked his journey to the cross with a resolve he could have no other way. To follow Him, we must do the same.