Strangers and “Ashes to Go”

Lent has begun with challenge and invitation.  On Tuesday night following a Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper with neighboring congregations, I headed to the grocery store to pick up some leeks with an eye toward beginning Lent with leek soup.  It was pouring down rain.  As I walked in the store, there was an older woman sitting in one of the motorized chair shopping carts.  A couple of bags of groceries were in the basket, and she was looking out the window at the rain.  As I reached for a shopping cart, I commented on the buckets of rain coming down.  She indicated that she had been sitting there for a couple of hours and hoped her children would back and get her.  She said she had been released from the hospital the day before, having had problems with her feet because of her diabetes.    She looked so alone.

I told her that I was going to get just a couple of items and that, if she had not heard from her children, I would take her home.  She seemed grateful.  When I had gathered my leeks and tomatoes, and reached the checkout, she was still sitting there.  I brought my car up close to the door and helped her get in.  She only lived a couple of long blocks away, so the drive was brief.  I learned on the way that she has a daughter  “on crack” and that the state had taken away her daughter’s children.  She grieved the loss of her grandchildren, but is in no physical condition to care for them.  A son was just simply not around.  When I took her groceries up to her door and stepped in, I could see that she lived in a very neat apartment.  We went through the difficulty of her trying to pay me — a me refusing.  Then she became tearful. We talked a bit about her declining health, her absent children, and her sadness.  She said she’s tired of living, and I talked with her about God calling her to life.   I found out that she has a church and a pastor.  I asked her if she would like us to pray and so we did.  Then I left, she opened the door again and asked if I would please keep praying for her.  I assured her that I would.  I drove away ready for Lent to begin; ready to be in touch with my own and others’ mortality.  I also drove away grateful that again and again in our world the barrier of race is breaking down as it did between us that night.  I went home and made leek soup.

This morning I dressed to be outdoors for “Ashes to Go.”  This was the second year that our ecumenical group of congregations have offered “Ashes to Go” on a  busy corner of Grand  in the city.  A local coffee shop sets up a tables and small tent for us and provides coffee and hot chocolate.  The pastors (in vestments) offer ashes on the street corners.  We have brief liturgy for those who would like to participate in that, or we can simply talk a bit about Ash Wednesday, have prayer together, and impose the ashes.  Last year the weather was wonderful and about a hundred people came for ashes.  This year it was bitter cold and sleeting; still a good steady stream of folks who came.  I had a wonderful conversation with a woman who had parked her car and come over “because” she said “I need to find a church again”.  We talked for a bit and she left, expressing her need for God and Christ’s community in her life.  I hope she will try one of our congregations — or any congregation for that matter.

I confess that it was slow, there were four of us, and I was so cold that I did not last the two hours.

I preferred the warmth of tonight’s Ash Wednesday Service!  What a wimp I am!

May God be in it all!