Dirt Under the Nails

 

 You know it is Ash Wednesday when the nail clippers come out and my thumb nail gets cut down as short as I can handle it. This is not only so that I don’t stab people in their heads while putting the cross on their forehead but because after my first Ash Wednesday I was bothered by the number of days the ash stayed under my nail. Really it does not matter how long or short my nail is, the black of the ashes stays for days.

I dislike dirt. I especially dislike dirt under my nails.

I was the kind of kid who wanted a washcloth outside with me…I would have done really well as a child of today with the baby wipes and handsanitizer.

I want things to be clean and tidy and as much as I can control them to at least have the appearance of perfection.

And yet.

Life is not clean or tidy or perfect.

God does not use clean or tidy or perfect people as much as dirty, messy, on the verge of death people.

I am struck that in Isaiah 58, God’s people fast, thinking that as long as they appear to do what God wants of them they will make God happy. They miss the point. We miss the point.

The dirt is important. The ashes are important. Looking death in the face, feeling our own mortality, our weaknesses, our failures, the messiness of our life is important. It is only then we call out “Help me.” It is only then we hear God answer “Here am I.”

Only in the ashes, in the dirt, in the stains, do we move away from appearances and into truth.

God offers us a life that is more than “the yoke of oppression with the pointing finger and malicious talk.” We are given love. Grace. Help in the midst of our very real, very messy, very broken life.

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