It's Ash Wednesday and I didn't go to church

It’s Ash Wednesday and I didn’t go to church

It’s Ash Wednesday. For many Christians, some part of the day is spent receiving ashes on one’s forehead.

You are reminded,

from dust you came, to dust you shall return.

But I did not receive ashes today. There were no ashes to go. Instead, there was a greater need. And so, I spent my time in one of the holiest places I can imagine: At an emergency warming shelter for Nashville’s unhoused.

pots-kitchen

In an adjacent building of a Catholic church, while the snow was coming down, volunteers gathered to welcome our friends experiencing homelessness.

But as we arrived with bags of supplies and food, the guests that evening were already there to welcome us–holding the door open, asking if we needed a hand.

One volunteer, Rocky, shared his story. He had been a recipient of these services not too long ago, and when he recently became homeless again, he had some friends who took him in.

Tonight, he was in the kitchen with us making coffee and plating food. He had to give back, he said, after the care he had received when he had no housing.

Thanks to organizations like Open Table Nashville, hundreds of the city’s residents without permanent shelter can find a hot meal, conversation, and a warm place to sleep when temperatures drop below freezing.

So, no. Tonight I didn’t to to church. Church could not have offered what I experienced.

Ashes were not placed on my head in the sign of a cross, and I was not told that from dust I came, and from dust I will return.

But I was, as I am every time I spend with our friends experiencing homelessness, reminded of my humanity; that I am so close to being on the receiving end of a free meal or temporary shelter, were it not for an existing support network.

What clearer reminder of one’s humanity than feeling the hunger pangs from not knowing when your next meal will come from, or having your foot amputated, because you didn’t have adequate clothing and shelter to protect you from the elements.

As my friend Lindsey, said of the housing crisis in Nashville,

our people are being dismembered in the shadows of progress.

If you celebrate this season of Lent, you know it is characterized by a time of introspection and self denial; of questions and ambiguity.

I could not have chosen a more appropriate place to begin this Lenten journey than with our city’s most vulnerable and marginalized–our brothers and sisters and companions on the journey, constantly reminding us by their mere existence and station in life, that there is much work to be done; that our lives are intertwined in a beautiful and complex web.

From dust WE came, from dust WE return.

I didn’t go to church today. Except I did.