Fr Simon of Blessed, the alternative worship community from Gosport, has a rather splendid ministry of daily text messages...They arrive at random moments and always offer something worth reflection. Often their timing and content shout loudly "God-incidence!God-incidence!" as they feed directly into situations of which Fr S could not possibly be aware...and generally they move my thinking on in wholly positive and helpful ways.
On Ash Wednesday I was woken as the morning text arrived, a quote from wonderful Herbert McCabe
"When God forgives our sins, he is not changing his mind about us. He is changing our minds about him. He does not change; his mind is never anything but loving; he is love"
Familiar words, but always freshly inspiring, today they provided the backdrop for 2 wonderful Ash Wednesday services.
The day began with school worship...Timing was tight, so I couldn't even consider ashing all the children, but we did make ash by burning some nice juicy sins (written on scraps of paper) - using as our fire bowl a large Celebrations tin.
Thus, at a stroke, we not only prevented the vicar from burning the church down but introduced the idea that Lenten penitence is always fundamentally joyful...the coming together of our human need for forgiveness and God's irrepressible loving urge to forgive and restore.
But at the same time the process stirred another memory and brought home another truth.
You see paper doesn't burn well on its own.
The flames that leaped as I used the lighter soon burned out, leaving parts of the words - "Being unkind" "Being intolerant" "Forgetting to pray" still all too visibly present, reminders of a work in progress.
Then I remembered what I'd learned once before - that paper only burns successfully if you leave the source of heat there. The best approach is to have a candle in the firebox if you want the flame to last.
For my own benefit, I'll labour the point.
If you don't stay close to the source of light, joy and forgiveness - you're left with the reality of the person you really are, in all your untransformed grubby reality.
This Lent, I'm planning, hoping and praying to take time each day to get close to God, and allow God to get on with showing me the person God has always seen and always loved when looking at me...
And that will be something to celebrate!
Not for the first time, John Bell says it best
"Take, oh take me as I am.
Summon out what I shall be.
Set your seal upon my heart
and live in me"