Voice and Vision

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49: Ashes

My husband keeps the ashes of our last two beloved dogs–a Bernese Mountain Dog and a Landseer Newfoundland–on his dresser, a solemn way for him to keep them close.

Solemnly, sadly, we watch Putin’s Russian military destroy schools, hospitals, homes, as once beautiful Ukrainian cities disintegrate in ashes.

Four days ago was Ash Wednesday, a Christian holy day, solemnly observed by prayer and fasting, marked with application of ashes in a cross sign on congregants’ foreheads by priest or pastor in a church service. Ash Wednesday also marks the first day of Lent, a period for reconciliation with God and repentance for what one has done wrong.

I’d like to see Putin repent. I’d like to see him reconcile not only with God, but with the good people of Ukraine.

My religion does not observe Ash Wednesday rituals. Rather, it views repentance and reconciliation as on-going.  Daily, hourly, reconciling man to God, keeping thought and acts in line with God’s goodness, is considered essential. Repentance, too, is necessary in dealing with mistakes, but insufficient. It is reformation that is needed. We must be willing to change, to correct our thinking, attitudes, and actions until they match God-given attributes of lovingkindness, honesty, humility, justice. Wouldn’t we like to see Putin practice the essence of Ash Wednesday–reformation–with as much fervor as he shows for invasion!

There was a time when I participated in Ash Wednesday services in an Episcopal church.

This is a story I do not share lightly. I will condense it here, hopefully not losing its import:

Some decades ago, I desired to know God so absolutely that I decided to study every religion known to mankind: Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, and every Christian denomination I could find. In order to do this searching with integrity, it seemed right to leave the religion, Christian Science, I’d grown up in and loved for 40-some years. As you may imagine this was not understood by my devoted Christian Science parents, relatives, friends. A bit of a black sheep, I, nevertheless, was clear about my direction.

Eventually, my journey led me to seminary in New York City, where, along with priests, pastors, nuns, and intellectuals, I worked on a Master’s Degree in Spiritual Direction, called “the art of arts.” I loved seminary, living in a “cell” with no more than a bed and a desk, devouring classes, conversations, clergy, and constant God-focus. Prior to seminary, I’d been attending an Episcopal Church, learning traditional theology. This particular church had an exceptional rector, one of the most Christly men I’ve ever known, and, for several years, my husband and I joined him and others in team-teaching “The Journey Course,” centered on the Bible as mankind’s journey, drawing people from all religions, denominations, and walks of life, everyone sharing experiences.

In my particular journey, I kept looking for the place of healing in each religion I investigated. I found that practicing healing as Jesus taught it did not seem to hold a significant place in most denominations–other than in Christian Science, the church I’d left. Having trusted God alone for my health and well-being for 40+ years as a Christian Scientist, I had to find how to still rely on God for that in my new search. Praying one morning, it came to me:  Christ Jesus healed! I knew I could trust this fact and with it I maintained my health.

Then, nearly two decades later, one morning I was awakened from sleep about 3 AM “hearing” these words: Go google Christian Science lecture on the computer. This seemed an odd message as I’d not been focused on Christian Science for years at that point, plus I knew only one lecture a year is given by each branch church, so what was the likelihood one would be given anywhere near where I lived? And why, now, would I want to go to a Christian Science lecture in the first place?

All my life I’ve obeyed crystal clear messages–like mental angels–so I went to my computer and discovered to my surprise that a lecture was to be given in just two days only 15 miles from my home!   I knew I was meant to go. I asked my husband to go with me to the college where the lecture was being held. While we waited for the lecturer to begin, we struck up a casual conversation with the woman sitting next to us. She happened to live near our home and offered to give me a ride to church if I’d like to attend. I took her up on her offer and we continued to ride to church together for years until I moved to Maine; we remain good close friends today.

What happened at that lecture? It was inspiring, full of healing examples, but one sentence stood out to me as if in neon, as I recall it:  This is where we’re all going to end up anyway.  Suddenly I knew this was true. I realized that the church I’d left years ago, Christian Science, held the answers I was seeking.

I’d always loved the definition of God Christian Science provided. God made sense to me as Supreme Infinite Good, Principle, Mind, Life, Truth, Love, Spirit, Soul. It also made sense that as God’s offspring, made in God’s image and likeness, we must be spiritual, that material selfhood is illusionary. Old and New Testament characters, Psalms, and teachings of Christ Jesus provide us with eternal truths by which to live in the 21st century. These spiritual truths bolster human beings throughout the world daily, as well as in difficult times such as the Ukrainians face today.  Following that lecture ten years ago, I knew my raison d’etre was to faithfully follow these teachings to the best of my understanding.

Beyond symbolic ashes, repenting, reforming, reconciling ourselves to God requires great effort but with this practice dawns spiritual growth and healing.

Dawn, oil, 16" x 16", $675, by Gwendolyn Evans.

Dawn, oil, 16″ x 16″, $675, by Gwendolyn Evans

Artwork:  Dawn, oil, 16″ x 16″, $675, by Gwendolyn Evans. Barely dry, this newest oil reflects more than a lovely physical dawn: the dawn of ideas.

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