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AfterWords | Blessed Are the Fragile (February 18, 2024)

AfterWords is a series of community-contributed reflections intended to further the conversations that begin during Parish sermons.

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A 3-Minute Read
by Amy Hoyle

A few years ago my father suffered a fall and had deep bruising that went from his stomach to his back. The cardiologist admitted Daddy to the hospital and stopped his blood thinners. Further imaging revealed he also had a subdural hematoma, so a neurologist joined his care team.

When his team of —ologists were convinced he was well enough to go home, we were so excited. Still, arriving at home didn’t mean his health journey ended. At best, Daddy was precariously stable.

While he did recover, I began to truly realize how fragile my father’s health was—and really how fragile all our lives are, if we allow ourselves to admit this truth.

The Lenten season begins with us declaring our own limitedness: “Remember you are dust, and to dust you will return.” 

Just as Advent gives us forty days to prepare for the birth of Jesus, Lent is a time to reflect on who we are in Jesus. We journey with Jesus to the cross and, if we’re brave enough, we allow ourselves to admit our deep need for a Savior.

The world celebrates perfection, success, self-reliance, and it’s so easy to get caught up in the world’s message. Who wants to admit they’re limited, needy, broken, sick, depressed?

When I underwent chemo, I joke that I lost the ability to edit myself. I just COULD NOT sugarcoat anything. And I prefaced a lot of what I said with, “This is not socially acceptable to say…” I could be nothing but honest about my suffering, my deep grief, my desire to die and be free of this body.

Many gave platitudes, sent cards, and quickly exited stage left when faced with my honesty. I was A LOT, way too much for them.

But there was a precious, holy remnant of my husband and some beautiful friends who sat with me in the ashes. They empathized with me, dwelt with me, and abided like Jesus. Their love, and God’s love, gave me permission to be honest, which I’ve discovered is the better way.

This honesty has allowed me to be real about my circumstances and struggles, which in turn gives permission for others to be honest.

I really loved what Benjamin shared on Sunday. Sometimes we are not led to still waters. Sometimes where we are led is death and resurrection.

Lent is an invitation to baptize our identities and let what’s not true wash away, and what’s most true soak in.

In Mark 1:11, Jesus is baptized, confirmed by God as His Son, in whom He is well pleased. Then, in the very next verse, we learn the same Spirit that descended like a dove pushed Jesus into the wild. Other translations say the Spirit drove Him there.

For forty days Jesus was tested. He remained at peace and in perfect union with God the Father. Jesus showed how we can be comfortable with discomfort.

I’ve lived more of my life in the wilderness than the promised land, but I’ve never lacked. Just as Jesus was tended by angels, the Holy Spirit brings a nearness to God. In my deepest sufferings, it took me all the way to the veil of heaven. I experienced Jesus’ deep love—and His deep grief. He identified with my suffering, and there was no shame. When I felt a shell of myself, Jesus said, “There you are.”

My fragility was always there, but pride hid it from me. We are all plagued by humanity, and the only cure is Jesus. Yes, we are dust, but God used that dust to form us in our mother’s womb. He gave us a soul that could receive His love and house the Holy Spirit—a soul that will live forever with Him.

All I can do with dust is sweep it, and maybe make a mud pie. But the Creator takes dust and makes us, His beloved, in whom He is well pleased.

I’m ever aware of my limitations, but I’ve learned to accept that my limits keep me clinging to God—and that’s the best place to be. He never despises our helpless condition. He renews us and fills us with His love, His joy, and the gift of deeper peace, deeper trust, deeper relationship.

In Lent, God invites us to fully live into who He created us to be. We are all painfully human. As Kate Bowler says, “There’s no cure for being human.”

The good news is the steadfast love of God will never end. He has limitless compassion. Sharing our struggles and humanity allows other to be honest and feel safe enough to admit their own pains and struggles.

This Lenten season, I pray we will all be brave enough to admit our dustiness, our fragility, and our deep need for a Savior.

This Lenten season, may we put to death anything that doesn’t lead to the ways of Jesus.

A Blessing for Ash Wednesday

— Kate Bowler

When we don’t feel like dust,
Bless us, oh God,
in the ways we trick ourselves into believing,
that our lives are something we’ve made,
that all our accomplishments and
successes and mastered mornings
add up to something independent of you.

But on days like today,
when our heads hang low
Sunk with the grief of our neediness,
Bless us, oh God.

When our joints don’t work like they should,
when we grow sick or turn gray too soon.
when our bodies betray us…
or perhaps they are doing exactly what
they are supposed to do.

Tell us again
exactly how you made us:
from dust to dust.

Blessed are we, a mess of contradictions,
in our delusions and deep hopes,
in our fragility and finitude. Amen.

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