Signposts: Daily Devotions

Wednesday, March 9

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving-kindness; in your great compassion blot out my offenses.
—Psalm 51:1

Ash Wednesday

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the liturgical season of Lent. Next to Good Friday, it is the most sober, and sobering, day of the Christian year. Believers across the globe go to church where, if you choose, you may participate in what is called the Imposition of Ashes. The priest dips her finger into a bowl of burnt ashes, makes the sign of the cross on your forehead and says, "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

It is not a day for the faint-hearted or for those who live removed from reality. For years, I was tremendously comforted by the thought that God knew me, loved me, and accepted me, but I did not give equal attention to the other side of the equation—the need to face my darker nature, name it, and seek forgiveness. I didn't realize how naïve, even arrogant, I was being.

One Ash Wednesday, as I knelt in church, I saw how I'd been fooling myself. It was not a blinding light experience; I did not fall weeping before the priest. But I did connect the words of confession and penitence with the reality of my life, and I hope I will never be the same again. Now I approach the Ash Wednesday Liturgy with something like anticipation. It is oddly comforting to confess my sins and ask for strength to change.

Ash Wednesday is a good day. It offers a chance to join the eloquent psalmist who knew himself well and offered himself, sins and all, into the hands of a loving God.

Almighty God, in your great compassion, blot out my offenses and renew a right spirit within me. Amen.

These Signposts originally appeared on explorefaith in 2006.