Take another little piece of my heart now, baby
an Ash Wednesday essay for subscribers
Yet even now, says the Lord,
return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
rend your hearts and not your clothing.
Return to the LORD, your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. - Joel 2
I wonder why the Ash Wednesday reading says to return to God with all of our heart rather than return to God when we get our crap together. I mean, in Lent we tend to really focus on our behavior, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but I think that maybe the implication is that we give our hearts to a whole lot of things that are not God. So if we think Lent is about giving things up so we can impress God maybe we should ask ourselves: which is harder – the fasting part or the returning to God with all our heart part?
Because I don’t think that my problem is that I eat too much sugar or I spend too much time on Facebook. My problem…and maybe yours too is that I sort of piece my heart out to things that cannot love me back - to the unrequited love of so many false promises - my starving little heart is doled out in so many pieces trying to get her own needs met.
And so, thank God once a year we gather to speak the truth of how we piece out our hearts, how we sin and fall short, how we rely on every single other thing to love us – everything but God. How we love each other and are loved by each other so poorly with the small leftover bits of our hearts after we’ve given most of them and time to career advancement and saving the world and saving for our future and playing Wordle and virtue signaling on Facebook and the dull pain of chemical dependency and internet porn and sugar binges and crossfit and the next spiritual practice or restricted diet that promises to make us whole. It’s not our time that’s so wasted with all of it…I think it’s something so much more valuable… I think it’s our hearts.
So on Ash Wednesday with the faithful all across the world we gather all the pieces of our broken selves…all the broken You Deserve A Break Today pieces of our starving little hearts and we again are told, of all things, that we are dust and to dust we shall return. The very thing we are trying to pretend is not true. Because I think we give our hearts away because we’re afraid of the limits of our self-hood… so we create endless ways to either avoid our self-hood or expand our self-hood. In other words, we sin. And all of it…and I hate to be so cliché, but basically, when it comes down to it, all of it is about the fact that we’re afraid to die. And as a giving-our-hearts-away afraid-to-die people you’d think hearing you are dust and to dust you shall return would be pretty bad news, but not so. Because here’s the thing: in the creation story in Genesis 2 it says that the Lord God formed a human from the dust of the ground, and breathed into their nostrils the breath of life; and the human became a living being.
So, yes, children of God…you are dust and to dust you shall return.
But remember this: it is from dust and the very breath of God that you were created out of divine love. A divine love which mends the pieces of your heart back together whenever you return to it.
And to do this, to gather the given away pieces of our hearts so that God can make them whole, well, there’s a term for that … it’s repentance.
I used to think that repentance meant to feel so bad about being bad that you promise to not be bad anymore.
But now I see repentance as just returning again to God. Which I get to do with every new breath I take, every new moment I live.
That’s what Ash Wednesday and Lent is…a thousand opportunities to return to God with all you heart. Returning again to the only thing in which we have any true self-hood: the eternal and divine love of God. The eternal and divine love of God which created you from dust and breath. The eternal and divine love of God to which you will return after your last breath when again . . . you are dust.