The ash residue from last weeks Ash Wednesday service has finally washed out of crevices under and around my fingernail. During the imposition of ashes, the person who marks the forehead carries them longer, as the sooty grime works its way into the days ahead. Ashes symbolize our mortality. They are reminders that all we have will one day be gone. We won’t live on this earth with these bodies forever.
As I walk through the days of Lent, I’m reminded that if I am to do any good in this world, it will have to be now. Years are passing, and I doubt that I will have the stamina of a Jimmy Carter if I make it to his age. My family history of dementia and memory loss are not soothing messages to me of my future reasoning ability. We have this one life to use. I want my last years to be marked by grace, compassion and a generous spirit. I wish I could say that I succeed in this daily.
At our ordination United Methodist clergy are asked “Are you going on to perfection?” Everyone laughs, even as we say “yes” to the question, knowing the impossibility of perfection. John Wesley began the tradition with the first group of clergy he ordained. He did not see going on to perfection as impossible at all. Wesley thought of these words as a means of grace, where each of us attempts every day to love God and our neighbor as perfectly as we can. So, I work on the perfection piece, knowing I will fall short, but trying each day to love my neighbor and to love God a little more faithfully, than the day before.
“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”