Ash Wednesday Prayer

As part of a presentation I'm giving today for one of my courses I'm charged with leading the group in prayer. Here is my morning meditation:


Let us find stillness in our hearts as we take a few moments to pray this morning.

Today, the Church observes Ash Wednesday and begins its annual journey of Lent. The first reading yesterday came from the conclusion to the first story of creation found in Genesis. After calling all of creation into being and populating the earth with creatures, God said:

“Let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness.
Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea,
The birds of the air, and the cattle,
And over all the wild animals and all the creatures that crawl on the ground.

God created humankind in his image;
In the divine image he created him;
Male and female he created them. 

Yesterday we heard a message of great consolation and hope: we are created in the “image and likeness” of God’s own self. Sometimes this seems impossible to believe: what is it about me, my neighbor, my enemy that bears God’s likeness? Is it freedom? Intelligence? Power? Perhaps our likeness goes above, beyond, and far deeper than these: in the depths of our heart, at the very core of our beings, there is something incomprehensible about each of us. Just as we will never get our minds around God, so too will we never plumb the deepest recesses of our existences.

How often have I tried to fill this silent space with various things – academic honors, social prestige, the esteem of others? How regularly do I treat others as means rather than their own incomprehensible ends? How frequently have I succumbed to the temptation to fill the silent void that invites me to rest within it, to grow strong within it, to fall more and more in love with it?

Yet for all my ploys and machinations, my foolproof schemes and plotting, my harried attempts to fill this void, I know it is futile.  All of my plans to engineer my own triumph, to be my own master, to set my own course eventually turn to naught. What seemed like a great plan, a sure-bet, disintegrates when I touch it. Unless God is at the center, everything is ash. 

Today, I shall bear upon my flesh an outward sign of this awareness: I am marked by ash, a sign of the finite, the ephemeral. May the quizzical looks I get from others today make me mindful of how God sees me when I try to be something I’m not, when I am other than myself rather than the person I’ve been created to be. For today we are called back by our Creator, deep calls upon deep, and we are summoned to return to the Lord with fasting, weeping, and mourning. 

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Give me the strength to surrender my plans and agenda and to come to where you invite me. You have called me into existence and now you call me into your friendship. Have mercy on me and guide me home, dear God, that I may find myself buried eternally in the heart of the Trinity where I shall rejoice in your love and your light.  

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