Ash Wednesday – Elizabeth Molitors, March 9, 2011

 

March 9, 2011
St. Mark’s Episcopal Church
Ash Wednesday
the Rev. Elizabeth Molitors

“The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.”

Isaiah 58:11

In the late 1960s, the Episcopal bishop James Pike died in the desert in Israel after his car got stuck in a rut as he ventured onto an unpaved road. His wife, Diane, who survived the ordeal, later wrote about the experience in her book called ‘Search.’ I don’t remember much about the book – I read it when I was barely a teenager – but what stayed with me were the author’s graphic descriptions of her thirst as she hiked hours under the desert sun, searching for someone to help them.

In the movie Cast Away, Tom Hanks plays a FedEx employee whose plane crashes on a deserted tropical island. Stuck in this remote place for four years, he eventually learns how to feed himself pretty well, but he never stops struggling with getting enough to drink. At the end of the movie, when he has returned to civilization, we see him driving in his truck, bottles of water laying on the seats, and rolling around on the floor of the car. The subtext of the visual message is clear: he’s going to do whatever he can to make sure that he’s never thirsty again.

The Pikes, this movie character – they dwelt, as Isaiah puts it, in “parched places.”

I don’t have much experience with parched places. I grew up in the Midwest, near one of the Great Lakes, in the land of wet Springs, humid Summers and heavy Winter snowfall. In late August, when the skies dried up and the rains didn’t rain, I didn’t experience the short-term drought as need, but as opportunity: each dry day made the grass more brittle, which meant that lawn mowing was suspended for a time. And even though the ground might grow dry and hard, we still had plenty to drink as our backyard well went deep, tapping into generous underground aquifers.

I wonder sometimes whether, in living in a place of literal sufficiency – enough water, enough food – whether it makes it harder for us to recognize and accept our places of need, our metaphorical parched places, the thirsts that our own bottled water cannot quench. Have we been lulled into a sense of our own omnipotence, forgetting that it is God alone who can fill our needs and satisfy our thirsts?

What am I thirsty for today? What are those places of dis-ease in your life that your own industry and creativity haven’t been able to satisfy? Where is that parcel of land inside me that I pretend is bearing fine fruit, but is actually dry and barren and lifeless?

Whatever or wherever those things are for you, that is a good place to start as you think about the season of Lent. Is there a spiritual discipline of prayer or meditation or service to others that would help you draw God in to your dis-ease, your thirst? Perhaps a period of mindful fasting will, paradoxically, nourish my barren place. “The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.”

Lent begins today with the dryness of ash, drawn on our foreheads to make us mindful of our limitations, our bounded-ness in time and space: remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Those words are a reminder of our mortality, yes, but they are also an invitation – to open ourselves up to the One that transformed the dust of the earth into humanity with His breath, the One that sustains us in this life, whether we’re ready to admit it or not.

Amen.