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Ash Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Create in me a clean heart, O God. -Psalm 51:10a

In the congregation where I served in Manhattan, our Ash Wednesday service was one in which we renewed our baptismal vows. After the scripture and meditation, the congregation was invited to stand and answer the same questions that were asked at the time of baptism. Everyone was then invited to come forward to the front of the sanctuary. With a generous amount of water, the pastors would make the sign of the cross on open palms as we spoke the words, "Remember your baptism, you are a child of God."

One Ash Wednesday, a petite, elderly woman came before me and extended her well-worn hands; but, what truly caught my attention was the deep distress in her face. After I made the sign of the cross, she paused for a very long moment looking at her wet palms. She then rubbed the water from the sign of the cross all over her face, like she might do when washing at the end of a long, difficult day. She then turned and walked away. I had never seen this woman before, and I never saw her again. Though she never spoke a word, in those moments, Psalm 51 took on life and breath right before me. "Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sins." (Psalm 51:2)

May we enter into this Lenten season with such depth and passion. May we open our weary hands and worn-out hearts to the Spirit so that we may receive God’s gift of restoration and grace. Blessings to you on this Lenten journey.

Janice Smith Ammon
Bryant M. Kirkland Minister of the Chapel
Princeton Theological Seminary