The ashes in my mouth taste like talc and powder. I swallow, move the tongue, wipe between teeth. It’s always like this, always a material experience that solidifies the visceral into something I understand. It’s candles to facilitate prayer, it’s arms raised to worship, it’s dancing on a cliff’s ledge to break before Spirit. It’s taking off my shoes on the dirtiest, holiest ground.
It’s not Scriptural, if Scripture is prescriptive. It’s Scripture with flesh and blood, if Scripture is the stuff of the Spirit of God.
I’m on my knees, fire blazing, touching ashes to my tongue.
He feeds on ashes; a deluded heart has led him astray, and he cannot deliver himself or say, “Is there not a lie in my right hand?”
We are doing a study on idols at church – what it is to make and have and hold idols in our hearts, and Isaiah likens the idol-worshiper to one who feeds on this dust of the fire. I’m bent over the study book, having one painful tissue severed at a time, layer upon layer and here it is, a hook to hang this soul-work on. Feeding on ashes. I eat, so I can remember. I taste, and it will never leave my memory. It is so very different from Christ’s flesh and blood.
A cliff’s ledge. A dumping ground of mountain garbage, plastic bags and tin cans and old tires – a dump with a view of glory. I stand atop my car and let God sear his words right in to my soul, arms outstretched, head thrown back, tears streaming. My hair blows wild around my face, catching in the pockets of my pants, blowing against the antenna of a 1998 blue Corolla. I stand in the center of the burned out spot of my hood, the memorial to the time my brother had failed to secure the new battery and the car had erupted into flames. I stand in the evidence of the ring of fire, and welcome a refiner’s blaze into my very core.
How I worship. 22 years old and still full of enough naiveté to just let it be Jesus and me. To just worship God and not shove it through the accepted forms of man and church and tradition. He says, “pick up the trash,” and I do, every last ugly piece of it, filling my car to the brim and emptying my soul of the waste that lingers. A material expression of the visceral becoming total in my being.
I stand before my speech class to tell the story, garbage and mountain tops, and I am caught up in the glory of it, unaware that I ought not say, “and God said.” Oblivious. It doesn’t enter my mind that there are rules. My audience is lost behind eyes wide with danger – fear? I’ve crossed a line. I curse myself. I am always crossing lines. I may have been raised Pentecostal, but this Christian college thinks the last time the Voice of God spoke to a person was in 1844 – and, well, I’d forgotten. It’s tantamount to sacrilegiousness – inferring you might also hear from the Lord. Prophecy is dead, we no longer listen to voices in our heads. I’m labeled a heretic. A petition is put out to oust me from the theology department, and the professors talk to my fiancee to tell him the reasons I will not make a good Christian wife. He marries me anyway.
Always too much, and never enough, and saying exactly the wrong thing. And, hello, Christ.
Can we write about doubt? Can I write about doubt? This doubt that opens my heart to hear when he says, “Remember.” A cycle of faith, of rotating in an oblong way? If Jesus is the sun, I am like Mars, pulled closer and closer in my rotation and then suddenly flung to the far reaches of eternity, only to be yanked back by his gravitational force. His are the bonds that hold me. Mine is the heart that adores. Closer, closer, further, further, and then close, so close again. My belief and understanding are as close as the breath in my bones and then as far as hell from heaven. I possess the deepest knowing, and the profoundest doubt, and the Lover who doesn’t let me go.
Ashes, ashes, we all fall down. Hide your story and can you not see: you’re writing with a lie in your right hand.
Remember these things, O Jacob,
And Israel, for you are My servant;
I have formed you, you are My servant,
O Israel, you will not be forgotten by Me.
This is My body, broken. This is My blood, poured out. Take, My love, take, eat, drink.