Street Prayers (with or without Ash)

Lent has begun again. It seems that I am always drawn to write during Lent. It is the reflective nature of the season, I think. Last Wednesday, while participating in “Ashes to Go” on a busy street-corner of the city, I was moved by one particular encounter. A very young woman approached us and asked what we were doing. I could plainly see that she was pregnant. I described that it was Ash Wednesday and we were there to pray with people and to offer to mark their foreheads with ashes to remind us of our humanity and mortality. She looked at my forehead, already smudged with black ash, and her nose wrinkled. She said, “You mean on my head?!” I said, “Yes, if you like. Or if you would rather not have ashes we could just pray. Would you like me to pray with you?” She said “Yes,” that she would, but no ashes. She told me her name and when her baby is due. We prayed for her, for her baby, for her family, for this new life as a mother.

As soon as I said “Amen.” She said “Thank-you, do you know where the bus-stop is?” My colleague and I began looking around for bus stops, discerned the direction she was going, and pointed her to the correct bus-stop. She was off.

When this young woman approached us she was in the process of looking for direction, finding her way in the Metro system. I doubt that prayer on a street corner with two robed pastors smudged with ash was in her plan. Yet, she was amazingly open to what God placed in her path at that moment. She asked what we were doing, and then she made a decision; ‘no’ to the smudge of ash, but ‘yes’ to prayer, and ‘yes’ to engaging for those moments with two strangers.

As she thanked us and headed off to the bus stop, I saw someone negotiating her way in life with an awareness of her life-bearing humanity, and of God’s life-giving presence. There is nothing more sacred than that!