Sacrifice. Stain. Ash Wednesday.

by faith ash wednesday jessicakmcguire

“For you take no delight in sacrifice, or I would give it. You are not pleased with burnt offering; The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit; a troubled and broken heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:16-17)

We sit in the sanctuary with a high wooden ceiling, a massive pipe organ in the loft, and blue-block stained glass windows casting odd colors on the pews. Purple cloth drapes the massive cross on the front wall above the altar. It is Ash Wednesday.

The church bells ring from overhead announcing the noon hour. I look to one of the girls and we gasp. “This is the church,” she says.

We have been wondering and looking since we first moved here for the church that has bells that announce noon and 6pm. You can hear the sound ring loudly across the neighborhood where we live especially during the months when the windows are wide open. Those bells often catch my attention as I go about my work.

Even though we are seven years outside weekly church walls, seven years of homeless Sundays – it follows me.

the holy beckons bucket jessicakmcguire

These Bells? This is the holy calling to me in the mundane places.

The ordinary spaces of laundry piles, pulling weeds in the flower beds, laying on blankets with my children in the yard watching the clouds pass us by overhead, moping hardwood floors, writing words from deck chairs, listening to rhythms of the neighborhood from my perch on the front porch, and washing dishes at the kitchen sink – those church bells call to me in my day’s ordinariness: resetting my heart, instructing my spirit, quieting my moments.

They beckon to me – calling me to prayer and seeking, rest and awareness.

baptism butterfly

“Remember your baptism,” the pastor instructs us as we prepare to come forward to receive the ashes. Then row by row we line up as she wipes oily soot on our foreheads and speaks words of dust over us. Women leading together placing their hands on each of my children, “From dust you come and to dust you will return.” Feeling her press her thumb into my brow – knowing too well how close to dust we live every single day. Then they turn towards each other – these women leading and one by one they place the oily soot on the others face. The Spirit is here. I can feel her presence in these women and among these people.

I recognize her stirrings and I weep.

Later in the service we come forward again, but this time for the bread and the wine.  These women again leading us before the communion table. They hand us wafers and real wine blessed with communion words. I’ve never known women leading and serving in the church in this way with such unquestioned authority. I want to know this – I want my daughters to know this. We want our sons to know this. There is no man here insisting that they give account for their behavior – that they demonstrate their worth. “Who gave you permission to do that?” is not mumbled under breaths and veiled behind passive-aggressive banter, leadership thwarted with carefully aimed “Bible” words.

ash wednesday confession

I am moving beyond, despite, over, and through. This is pressing in and leaning towards and moving forward. This is what it looks like to be a post-Evangelical. Finding faith in hard pews, in traditions rooted deep, far from the places I have always known. This isn’t a rock concert. And there isn’t gourmet coffee being served in the foyer. The equipment isn’t state of the art. It is simple. It is holy. We intentionally search for people who are reconciling. Those who are reconciling their community, the earth, LGBTQ people, and one another in the name of justice and genuine peacemaking. I have not known peacemakers like this…

“Most holy and merciful God, we confess to you and to one another, and before the whole company of heaven, that we have sinned by our fault, by our own fault by our own most grievous fault, in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and what we have left undone.”

We walk out into the sunny day with soot stain on our brows and red wine stain on our lips….seeking to live a love stained life.

ash wednesday me


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