Holden Voices: Blog

Poems, stories, and reflections, written by faculty, staff, and volunteers currently serving in the Village.

KENT NARUM: Ash Wednesday Sermon

February 20, 2015 at 9:59 AM

“Many’s the time I’ve been mistaken and many times confused
Yes, and I’ve often felt forsaken and certainly misused
Oh, but I’m alright, I’m alright, I’m just weary to my bones
Still, you don’t expect to be bright and bon vivant
So far away from home, so far away from home.” [1]

Kid leaves home (so goes the story) with dad’s inheritance.  Travels to a distant land.  Squanders inheritance.  Famine comes, no one helps.  Hungry and guilty, the child finally says, “I’ve no where else to go, but home.  At least at home I can be a hired hand.  I’ll go.  I’ll beg for pity.  Anything is better than this.  I’ll say, ‘Father, I know I’m not worthy to be called your kid, but have pity, have mercy, just treat me like a servant.’”

The story of the prodigal son in Luke’s Gospel isn’t a reading this Ash Wednesday.  However, it is a night we remember, we acknowledge, we are far from home.  We are mistaken, confused, forsaken, misusedweary to our bonesso far away from home.

It’s a word some have heard before: Liminal.  It is the space between two things.  The transition in space or time, a “threshold” experience (like the “threshold” of a door, where you find you have left one space or time, but you’ve yet to settle into the space or time ahead of you).

Sometimes you enter the liminal voluntarily or intentionally. You end a relationship or leave a job.  Then again, perhaps more often the liminal experience is thrust upon you by a crisis of some sort.  A loved one dies.  You lose your job.  You are told you are being divorced.  You receive a diagnosis.  Or, you come to Holden.  Holden is as liminal as it gets.  Everyone arrives on the bus.  And everyone has a departure date.

Any experience in fact that temporarily suspends your status or routine, even being unable to find your car keys as you head out the door to an important appointment or getting in a car accident or becoming trapped in an elevator, can be an experience of the liminalThe in-between.  A liminal experience is, by definition, uncomfortable.  It is rarely pleasant.

But, oh, there is the greatest growth in these times.

Just by being here, you are invited into (or perhaps you are thrust into) the liminal experience of Lent. With a substance (ash) and a symbol (the intersection of two lines; a cross) and with words (“Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return”), you cross a threshold into liminal time and space: a season of forty days.  Lent.  And you are reminded that life itself is liminal.  Birth.  Death.  Life in between.

Jesus speaks in Matthew’s gospel of three practices.  They are the three traditional practices of Lent: (1.) giving alms (that is, offering one’s time or talent or treasure for the sake of others or God’s work in the world), (2.) prayer (setting aside time or space to grow in deeper awareness), or (3.) fasting (intentionally letting go of something for the sake of appreciating it in a different way).

Perhaps you will choose one of these three practices to enter more deeply into the liminality of Lent.  It might not be comfortable, but you do it seeking growth.  Or perhaps, life is liminal enough for you as it is right now without adding a new practice.

But either way, keep in mind what you are working towards.  Jesus says it has something to do with not storing up treasures on earth, what moth and rust can consume, where thieves can break in and steal.  Instead, it has something to do with storing up treasures somewhere else.  A place that’s hard (if not impossible) to describe, but where neither moth nor rust consume, where thieves don’t break in and steal.

Might we call it a place where the heart can rest at home.  This life, Jesus tells us, is liminal time.  This world, Jesus tells us, is liminal space.  Following Jesus is a constant experience of the liminal.

But the good news is: oh, the deepest growth comes in liminal times and places.           

“And I don't know a soul who's not been battered
I don't have a friend who feels at ease
I don't know a dream that's not been shattered or driven to its knees
Oh, but it's alright, it's alright for we lived so well so long
Still, when I think of the road we're travelling on
I wonder what's gone wrong; I can't help it, I wonder what’s gone wrong.” [2]

Paul Simon borrowed the music for the song from Bach’s St. Matthew Passion.  You might know the tune from the hymn “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded.”  About 50 years ago, Paul Simon wrote some words to it, reworked the melody a bit, called it an “American Tune” and together the melody and the words bleed a story of a heart yearning for home.

In so many ways, it is the story of Lent as tonight we remember, we acknowledge, that our home is earth and dust and ashes.  Each of us will die.  Maybe this year.  Maybe seventy years from now.  But none of us escapes life without dying.  Newborns and elders are marked alike.  Like it or not, all eventually reside in death.  Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

This life, this world, is liminal.  And it would be so easy to wrap this up by speaking of the promise of a far-off distant heaven. The trouble is, the biblical witness is, that Jesus spoke time and time again not of a promise that God would whisk us off, away from liminality.  No, the promise of God in Jesus is that God most mysteriously and most vulnerably enters liminality with us.

“They tried to bury us,” the Mexican proverb goes.  “They didn’t know we were seeds.”

This is the promise we return to in the season of Lent.  The season of Lent is a time to bury, but God chooses liminal places, places of deep suffering, to meet us with hope and grace and growth.

You see it in the story of the cross.  Violence meets a fiercely resistant love that includes forgiveness.  You hear it in the story of the prodigal son.  Wandering meets homecoming as a father meets a child long before the child actually makes it home.

God chooses liminal places, thresholds where limits are confessed, to meet us with grace and forgiveness. 

May you find strength and hope and growth in the liminal season of Lent these forty days ahead.  May you find God waiting for you in the liminal spaces and times here at Holden and beyond.  May you find new life, like a seed buried, ready to sprout.

[1] Verse one of Paul Simon’s “American Tune”
Verse two of Paul Simon’s “American Tune”