i had to interrupt the flow of my greece posts to reflect briefly on the ash wednesday service that i attended tonight at my congregation in budapest – st. columba’s church of scotland. the gathering was contemplative, filled with long pauses, beautiful songs that we chanted together, and poignant scripture readings.

i arrived at the service exhausted from my day. still trying to get into the swing of things back in budapest, i was worn out and dealing with a runny nose  when i arrived (plane rides with strangers and time in a nursery in greece are really putting my body to the test!). my pastor, rev aaron stevens, began the first reading and all of a sudden i felt the floodgates of my nose open and before i knew it something was about to drip right out of my left nostril.. i know, just what you want to be reading about right? anyhow, i got a tissue from my neighbor and spent a few minutes trying to get my nose under control.

in that moment i wondered why i had even shown up for the service at all, why wasn’t i just at home doing laundry and resting, preparing for the rest of my week? something had nudged me to come though and celebrate the start of lent with my church community – something had pulled me through the doors and into the first row.

genuine repentance involves two things:

the dying-away of the old self and the coming-to-life of the new.

the dying-away of the old self is to be genuinely sorry for sin, to hate it more and more, and to run away from it.

the coming-to-life of the new self is wholehearted joy in god through christ and a delight to do every kind of good as god wants us to.

my pastor read the text above and paused. for a long time. at first i was still self-conscious about my nose – would it drip again!? would other people notice!? what if i sniffle and then distract someone else!? – but as time went on and the silence lingered, my thoughts quieted and my breathing slowed. i began to take meditative breaths: filling my stomach full with air, then my chest, pausing, then slowing releasing the breath in my stomach, and then in my chest, then repeating it over and over.

it was in that pause that i felt the stillness that god had been calling me to all day. in the midst of all my rushing about i had not paused to breathe and simply be, to take in the people and the space around me. there were more than twenty people at the contemplative ash wednesday service, and yet that silence was so still that i could almost feel it reverberating in my ears – a shock to my system that is so accustomed to constant noise in all situations.

my soul needed that pause. my spirit needed to have that experience in the midst of my community of faith.

the service was a true coming-back-to-life for me. returning from greece is always hard because my heart always yearns to be back, but this service, and that perfect stillness, reminded me just how strongly i am called to be here in this time with these people.

almighty creator, you have formed us from the dust of the earth. may we step forward from this moment with the assurance that you are always present, steadfast in our knowledge that we can never step out of your all-encompassing love. AMEN.


*liturgy for the worship today was from the worship sourcebook, second edition. you should check it out!