I had a lighter post planned, but it somehow didn’t seem appropriate for Ash Wednesday, a day of ashes and penance, the beginning of Lent, the time we set aside in the Christian calendar to remember the events leading up to Christ’s crucifixion, the weeks we set aside to draw closer to God in advance of Easter.
Last night, I became restless and couldn’t sleep, instead pondering the ways we live in ash heaps and sell our lives and dreams short for 30 pieces of silver. We settle for less than what God has planned and even resort to forcing events in our lives that were not what God hoped for us.
Judas Iscariot did this when he betrayed Jesus. Scholars say he was hoping to force Jesus to finally take up his sword and become the warrior Messiah that Judas and others had been awaiting. Judas betrayed Jesus in exchange for 30 pieces of silver, an amount that equaled four months’ wages. Not worth much, considering the outcome for Judas, who tossed the money back at the high priests before going out to hang himself.
One of my favorite stories involving betrayal is The Great Gatsby. Did you know that F. Scott Fitzgerald considered naming it something entirely different: Among Ash-Heaps and Millionaires? Fitzgerald recognized, and wanted his readers to see, too, that the separation between millionaires and those living among the ashes isn’t as great as our society might want us to believe. Jay Gatsby was popular and enigmatic but couldn’t escape the ash-heaps and betrayal in the end, despite all that his money could buy.
Sometimes we all end up covered in ash. And whether it’s the freeing ashes of penance or the weighed down ashes of our past, we rarely feel comfortable or comforted when covered in ashes.
And maybe that’s why we’re quick to sell out, to dust ourselves off for a mere 30 pieces of silver, to think it’s so easy to grab hold of our dreams and get to a shiny, clean place. But is the place we end up as clean and as shiny as we expected?
I’ve felt a disconcerting seismic shift in my life in the last few months, as if God is moving the underlying plates in my life, and last night, I wrestled to name the shift. I think it has to do with being covered in ashes from the past (not just my own past but others near me, too) and not wanting to take the 30-pieces-of-silver, forced way out. So I’ll wait to see what God has planned for me next. The waiting here is hard.
Just because I’m pondering ashes doesn’t mean I should leave you there, too, right? So if you recall last week’s post and my joy of an orchid bud, here’s what happened this week.
I couldn’t resist sharing it, even if it has nothing to do with ashes and 30 pieces of silver. It does have everything to do with embracing life, though, and that’s what I plan to do while I’m waiting for God’s next move.