by Benjamin Whetstone
Isaiah 44:9-20 (click here to read full verse): All who fashion idols are nothing, and the things they delight in do not profit … He prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!” … 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?”
Ever pondered upon ash is a symbol of repentance?
I’ve been thinking about it some after our Ash Wednesday service.
The image that came to me most frequently, actually, is the ash at the end of a cigarette. I guess because I like thinking about cigarettes, especially now I’ve quit for the fifth time. Non-smokers might not immediately understand (since they’re so nasty to anyone who doesn’t want them), but cigarettes are like food to a smoker.
And they do satisfy, let me tell you! On top of all the immediate “my brain needs this chemical” stuff going on, there’s also a sense of anticipation that’s pretty great. Whatever unpleasant thing I might be doing right now, I’m only a short ways away from rewarding myself and taking a break. I know it’s bad and wrong and blah blah blah. I just kind of like it.
Allow me to connect this thought, about ashes and desiring some short-term pleasure, to another. From Isaiah:
All who fashion idols are nothing, and the things they delight in do not profit. He prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!” 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?”
I can say, “I just kind of like it” every day, all day and it’s 100 percent true. But in the end, there’s a more subtle truth. That’s me in the passage up there, and in quiet moments I know it. My certainty is ash. My need for control over my precious minutes is ash. Every little pleasure ungainly got is … ash! My ash can’t talk back to me or comfort me; it leaves a bigger whole than it filled. And it can’t give me hope, or peace, or love.
From experience I can say that putting aside idols is no easy task. I’m not sure how to do it, really. Well, that’s not entirely true. The most effective thing in the past has been to think about how I really do want the hope, and peace, and love that an actual, real God can give. Really, I do! (And I bet you do too!)
I’m not going to speculate on what or where your idols are. The things that might take your time and your energy and don’t give anything back. The things that you love because they help you feel better and more in control for a minute. But if you’ve got some like I do, ponder on them a little.
Here’s to sitting in ashes for a month or two.
Prayer: God, you alone are not ash. Here we are, your church, and we’re sitting in a pile of it. We’ll be content to sit here for a long while, because we know that you can remake anything you want. Please help us be patient and willing to wait, because we love you and really do want your good things. Amen.