An Ash Wednesday Examen

I dreamed glowing dreams,
bright with fervent hope and the desires of my heart –
But my dreams were not of You, O LORD.

I burned with ambition,
fueled big plans with ideas
simmered in the coals of selfishness.
But I didn’t burn for You, O LORD.
And the goal of my ambitions, plans and ideas
was not to glorify You, My LORD.

I warmed to circles of friends,
basked in the respect of my associates,
and devoted untold hours and untold dollars to a variety of works.
But these people didn’t know You, O LORD.
Some slandered You.
Some misrepresented You.
Some made a false religion and called it You.
just ignored You,
living as though You aren’t,
Risen LORD.

And so did I.

But of course, You already knew that.

It has taken a score of years.

Your flame with painfully exquisite focus has burned
not within me – but around me –  setting torch
to plans, desires, and hopes.
The constant heat of your insistent, incendiary love has melted…much.
In reflection it seems that much,
that which was false,
has been rendered in the blazing coals.
The ashes and charred remains of dross and chaff surround me.
all that was not of You,
for You,
by You
is incinerated.

I sit naked in spirit,
mourning in psychological sackcloth,
in a circle of ashes.

What is left?

There beneath the melted and twisted wreckage…
exposed by this fiery pruning,
this controlled burn,
stands a stone foundation,
a few strong hard oak beams,
hewn and formed in ages past by a long ago carpenter,
in another realm.
Burned clean,
it is more than enough.

Remorse follows.

I lament wasted years of shallow lip service
pursuing unholy ephemera,
ambitions that reflect nothing of eternal significance,
people to whom I was only a useful tool,
the ones who shrank from the heat of the conflagration.

I am galled at the lies by which I was indoctrinated,
and anguished that I was blinded by them for a time.
Lies that seek to limit what You have done
and deny who You are
and compromise what You want us to be.

The lament and anguish spend me.

Ashes. Bitter, but cleansing.

I soak my scarred and soot-covered soul in the Living Water that flows fresh, clean, sparkling
when I pray,
when I worship,
when I read,
when I sing,
when I serve

Moses told them,
“For the Lord, Your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.”

You are.

I give thanks.

I cling to the grace extended by Your beloved,
betrayed, beaten, scarred, murdered
and Risen Son.

I pray that I may serve You acceptably,
with reverence and awe
with all the burning passion
with which I once served myself,
my idols and imposters.

Most of all, I pray for a fiery, unquenchable love for You;
For love is strong as death.

In Numbers, chapter 19, there are instructions for saving the sacrificial ashes, to mix with water, for the purification of an unclean personAshes were the first alkali, early soap.

Hebrews, 12:28, and Deuteronomy 4:24 remind us, should we ever forget, that our God is a consuming fire.

If you’ve gotten this far, you might have found this post oddly out of season, but then again, examen, confession, repentance, grace occur in a cycle, not unlike the water cycle, the carbon cycle, or the rock cycle, and surely not once a year!  The hymn says, “I need Thee every hour! ” That is infinitely closer to reality.

This post was originally published on my devotional blog, Riverside Reflections, on Ash Wednesday,  February 22, 2012.   As part of my consolidation of blogs, the post is being included on Garner Goings On in the Riverside Reflection Category and backdated to February 13, 2013,  Ash Wednesday.

 As always, thanks for reading!

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