ash wednesday brought me face to face with jesus (eventually)

I’d never known was liturgy was, and I figured I sure as hell didn’t want it, until one day in my very early 30’s, I actually saw people with ash on their forehead and, instead of laughing and mocking like I did every other year, I started to wonder what it was, why it was important, and why something shifted deep within me telling me that I needed this. I didn’t get ashes that year, but I did awkwardly try to observe Lent. I didn’t have a fucking clue what I was doing, and I had nobody to help as I was in a distinctly Protestant and evangelical church. Southern Baptists just don’t do Lent, it’s Catholic.

Never mind that I wasn’t Southern Baptist, I’d just landed at their church because I had nowhere else to go and the name Baptist wasn’t on the sign so I didn’t know they were Southern Baptist. I had just escaped the Christian fundamentalists, and I had no direction on where to go next, so I ended up among a bunch of Southern Baptists and I found out that I definitely wasn’t ever going to be good enough or normal enough or safe enough for the Southern Baptists. These particular ones seemed to have no actual sense of the reality of life. These people were nice, sweet, clean, and lived quiet lives unless it was football season. Rough people with fucked up pasts, and fucked up presents too for that matter, would never belong.

The Southern Baptists weren’t going to help me discover Lent, that was for sure, but my soul still told me I needed it. I craved those ashes and wanted to ask someone where I could get them. I assumed the closest Catholic Church as they were the only church I knew of that imposed ashes. I had been taught that Catholic’s weren’t Christians, and to be very suspicious of “the Catholics” like they were scary or some shit like that. It would be a few years before I realized they were good Christian people and not scary at all. I didn’t get ashes that year, nor the following year. I did have a compter with internet access, and so the next year, I was able to looke up how to do Lent. I figured I wasn’t worthy to have the ashes I craved and I had this idea that if I walked into the Catholic Church with my friend, the priest would see some kind of mark on my forehead that screamed unworthy even for ashes, reject immediately. I know much better than that now, and I know some great Catholic Christians including my children’s godmother.

The need for ashes had come to me as suddenly as God’s voice did one random night at about 2:00 when I was up with my disabled son telling me that I needed to get my children baptised. I thought that was ludicrous, because I’d only ever known baptism to happen after an older child or adult chose it. The thing was, this was the voice of God and it went deep into my soul and almost immediatly I began to look for a way to get my children baptised. This was a situation where again I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing, but ended up like I did with the ashes, somehow stumbling around in all the wrong places and eventually finding my way…to Jesus.

I found the Episcopal Church quite by divine accident, which basically means it was only an accident on my end. The amount of times Jesus has showed up to hold out his hand to me and pull me up from whatever current hell I’d found to dwell in at the time, is honestly preposterous. Why the fuck Jesus bothered coming to get my dumb ass…over, and over, and over again, will probably always be a mystery to me. It might be the greatest mystery of them all. The guy simply would not let me self-destruct despite my being absolutely hell-bent on doing so. There was no way I had anything of value to give Jesus, but he wasn’t worried. I think my value might have been simply that he loved me. I don’t know why, but I sure won’t dispute it. It’s not like I would have known what loved looked like even if it had hit me in the head anyway. I am learning what it looks like now, but back then I didn’t know anything about love.

I was in my senior year of my undergrad degree, and I took a special class that allowed me to choose a topic of interest to study as long as I could relate it to communications somehow. I don’t know what gave me the idea, I’m guessing Jesus might have had something to do with that as well, but I decided that I wanted to explore worship styles and if they correlated with a person’s learning style (spoiler alert: in my research, there was no correlation), but I did see how God was advertised in new ways in other churches and it opened me up to other ideas. I started asking why we didn’t pray the Lord’s Prayer together like other churches did, or why communion was once a quarter with our own personal shot glass full of grape juice and a tiny little wafery thing where the pastor prayed and then we all just got up and grabbed our stuff, chugged it down, threw away the disposable shot glass, and ended the service, and lots of other things. I began to crave liturgy, just like I had craved ashes.

After my research project, in an effort to learn some prayers by memory that I could teach my kids, I purchased a copy of the Book of Common Prayer on Amazon. I thought it was a book of prayers for personal use. It arrived, and I flipped through it and was disappointed. It was a worship manual basically for the Episcopal Church, and I didn’t know what the fuck an Episcopal Church actually was, but the name sounded funny. I put it down on the table beside my recliner in the living room, and got on my computer to request a return. Before I sent the book back, I picked it up and flipped mindlessly through it because I was bored, tired, and holding my disabled son, again at 2:00 in the moring or so. What I saw that night was such beauty that I wasn’t able to put the book down for quite a while. I soaked in the prayers and the liturgy and decided that I needed to figure out how to find an Episcopal Church.

I walked into the Episcopal Church for the first time on All Saint’s Sunday. I was very obviously not dressed appropriately for the occasion, but it seemed that I was the only person aware of that fact. I’m amazed they even wanted me around as several months earlier, the priest had been in the wrong place at the wrong time and encountered me while I was arguing with my ex-husband and so I turned to him and cursed him out too. I showed him what a great Christian woman I was (not), right from the start. I eventually contacted that priest and apparently he was fine with me showing up, in fact, he wanted me to show up. So, on that Sunday in November, I walked into the door of an Episcopal Church for the very first time.

I went to the altar, I received communion. I put the bread in my mouth and said “oh shit, this is Jesus,” and the same thing happened with the wine. I’d not just met Jesus face to face, I’d consumed him and I’d never be the same. I met Jesus because I’d had an insatiable desire for ashes at the beginning of Lent. I’m thankful for Ash Wednesday and I’m thankful that I was met Jesus while figuring out that I was dust, and to dust I would return.

Published by MaryClare StFrancis

MaryClare StFrancis is a writer who sounds as boring as hell but who is intimately acquainted with the horrific and the sacred. For a long time, darkness has been her friend, but she now walks in the light of Christ. As a committed Episcopalian, her main contribution to the church is her ability to make the priests facepalm or swear, depending on the day and context. MaryClare has a Master of Arts in English and Creative Writing and lives in Mississippi with her four children.

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