Ash Wednesday

Sarah Ruszkowski

Published 1 March 2017

From the Return of the Prodigal Son

“It might sound strange to consider grief a way to compassion.  But it is.  Grief asks me to allow the sins of the world–my own included– to pierce my heart and make me shed tears, many tears, for them.  There is no compassion without many tears…When I consider the immense waywardness of God’s children, our lust, our greed, our violence, our anger, our resentment, and when I look at them through the eyes of God’s heart, I cannot but weep and cry out in grief.

This grieving is praying.  There are so few mourners left in this world.  But grief is the discipline of the heart that sees the sins of the world and knows itself to be the sorrowful price of freedom without which love cannot bloom. I am beginning to see that much of praying is grieving.  This grief is so deep not just because the human sin is so great, but also–and more so– because the divine love is so boundless.  To become like the Father whose only authority is compassion, I have to shed countless tears and so prepare my heart to receive anyone, whatever their journey has been, and forgive them from that heart.” Henri Nouwen

As we begin the journey of Lent together, we grieve.  We weep and we mourn for all the pain that exists in the world.  I don’t think it takes any of us very long to think of clear examples of the lust, greed, violence, anger, and resentment that Nouwen refers to–in our own hearts and in the world around us. But we are all called to grieve as prayer, and in doing so make our hearts more like that of God.

In Joel, Chapter 2, we hear, “Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God. For gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment. Perhaps he will again relent and leave behind him a blessing, offerings and libations for the Lord, your God.”

In our weeping and our mourning, we are returning our hearts to God, who teaches us how to be gracious and merciful and rich in kindness.  In L’Arche homes around the world, I think this is seen as we return to the table.  Each day, we gather around the table.  Some days we return to our well-loved seats around the table happily and some days, we return weeping and mourning.  Some days we are struggling with a battle within ourselves–over how we responded in the meeting we just had, or in that encounter in the kitchen or how we felt when we looked in the mirror.  Some days we are struggling in our relationships with one another–living together and being in community with one another is not easy, and conflicts don’t just end at 6pm.  But we come to the table.  We break bread together.  We try to return to each other with our whole hearts. That is the commitment that we have made to one another in community.

On this Ash Wednesday, as we begin our journey through Lent, let us pray through our grief to “prepare our hearts to receive anyone”, and “return to God with our whole hearts.”