As we enter the season of Lent, the 40 days and 6 Sundays before Easter that the church sets aside time for repentance, generosity to the poor, and prayer, we turn our hearts back to God. We considered this last Sunday as we looked at the temptations of Jesus and our core wounds that tempt us to meet our needs for power and control, affirmation and approval, and security outside of God. Mine is glaring me in the face right now. I want to be "okay" or "enough" in the world by performing to gain the approval and esteem of others. In my younger years, I tried to dazzle them with extraordinary feats and breathtaking performances, even if it killed me. To somehow prove to myself and others that I was worthy of love. But as you and I both know, this is a game that cannot be won. It is impossible to please everyone, nor should we try. Especially if we are doing something worth doing, creating beauty and meaning, fighting injustice and pioneering new paths, we can only expect critique, push back, and sabotage. We are mortal. We experience setbacks, illness, and loss. Not only that, but we stumble, we say the wrong thing or make the wrong decision. We fail. And it sucks. Yesterday, I felt my imperfection and my flawed humanity and it stung.
This is why I desperately needed the black ashen marks of the cross yesterday. Why I needed a visible sign on my forehead dispelling the myth that I am more than dust. I am limited, human, and fragile. I cannot save anyone. Nor can you. There is a certain kind of relief that comes in this knowledge. We can cease from striving, rest, let the heavy burden to make something of ourselves roll off our shoulders, inhale and exhale. And so I stared at the symbol of the man on the crucifix and knelt in my pew uttering sacred words of repentance. Jesus is the only one who saves, and even he was not a superhero but died a criminal's death. And so I ate of the body of Christ broken for me and drank from the cup, his blood poured out for me, and I died another death to my need to be spectacular.
The paradox came as I added my Valentine's celebrations to my ashes. Yes, I couldn't resist. I hung a heart banner with the words BELIEVE IN LOVE, baked some chocolate chip cookies, and gave little chocolates and handwritten notes to my loved ones. And while the origins of St. Valentine's Day are vague and co-opted at best, on this day I choose to celebrate love. Not the romantic love that makes us miserable and excludes most of us, but the true agape love that makes the world go round and includes absolutely everyone. And I found that along with my need for ashes, I needed this too. To know that I am loved, deeply and profoundly. Just as I am. Flawed and insecure, smudged with sacred cinders, I am beloved. I needed to open up my home as I do every Wednesday night to be with the beloved community, to laugh, to eat, to share conversation and life, to remind others that they are beloved too. This is the invitation. To enter into the baptismal waters, where we lay down all our striving, our stinging insecurity and our need for approval only to be raised up out of the waters. And to be filled with the Spirit of Love and to hear the words of the Father. You are my beloved, my daughters and my sons, in whom I am well pleased. This. This is all I need to hear. All I need to know. I am dust and yet the Spirit of God has breathed her very breath into this dust, creating me in the image of the divine to be a beloved child and to be a part of love's healing and redemptive work in the world. This is the paradox. I am but dust and yet I am loved.
by Jessica Ketola