Tag Archives: repentance

Kyrie, Eleison

I have been pulling out thorns, stick tights and nursing cuts and scrapes. I spent the past couple of weeks in a briar patch. Tangled up in old resentments, anger, and feeling sorry for myself, I had worked myself  into a wadded mat of prickly brambles.

A briar patch with twisting vines, which cut or trip or cling at every turn, may be a good place to begin lent. In some respects, we, like Br’er Rabbit, are born and bred in the briar patch of human existence. I, however, did not find it as comfortable, as my cousin, Brother Rabbit. I felt trapped and wanted to break free of the barbed burden of myself.

My pride and arrogance coiled around one ankle. My entitlement and envy looped in a thorny noose around my throat. And soul smothering self pity sat on my chest like a heavy stone.

I could not seem to untangle myself. All my efforts only bound me more tightly. And, to tell the truth, I do not think I really wanted to get free. An insidious part of me seemed to enjoy how awful I was feeling. At the same time, another voice was asking, when I was willing to listen, “How happy do you want to be?” as if my happiness was somehow up to my simple consent and my willingness to receive what I desired.

Finally at my wits end and the end of my own strength, I prayed – not for God to fix the things that had me trapped, not for God to turn the briar patch into a luxury hotel, not for God to give me insights, knowledge, or explanations, but for mercy. I asked for God’s mercy – unmerited, undeserving, unearned mercy.

I, sick of myself, surrendered and stopped defending, justifying myself, and arguing with imagined foes. I came to my knees and asked for mercy.

And mercy was given

falling softly like a gentle rain.

Later that same day I discovered I had been set free from the briar patch. The heavy weight of myself was gone. I was no longer chaffing and pulling out splinters.

And the word, mercy,

sounded sweet in my ears,

like music,

like birdsong, unbidden and blest.

Perhaps there is no better prayer than to simply commend ourselves, others, and the whole world to the redeeming mercy of him who died and rose for us. According to Balthasar Fischer, this ancient prayer means more than “Help us!” It means:  “Take all of us with you on your journey through death to life.”

The quality of mercy is not strain’d,
It droppeth, as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice bless’d;
It blesseth him that gives, and him that takes:  . . .
Though justice be thy plea, consider this—
That in the course of justice, none of us
Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;
And that same prayer, doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy.
Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice
The Sanctuary Foundation for Prayer
Read more about prayer www.fromholyground.org, www.fromholyground.wordpress.org
Contact the author lross@fromholyground.org, www.fbook.me/sanctuary
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Ashes to Ashes

One by one they come forward. I press my thumb into the black sooty ash. On the forehead I make the sign of an ancient form of execution. Looking them in the eyes I say, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” For some I have to stand on tiptoe to make the mark. For the children I bend down to sign their lifted brows.

After eleven years among them, I know these people – their pain, their struggles, losses, hopes, and dreams. I love them. They come to place themselves before the altar and ask for this – this sincerity, this frank acknowledgement of death. They come to receive the smudge that says they know they have fallen short and they are sorry.

In a culture which denies death, sin, and personal and corporate responsibility for wrong-doing, I am moved by these who come to stand before God and one another in radical honesty. Instead of  wrinkle cover, make-up and  hair growth tonics, they wear the sign that says they know they will die, and because of that, and because life is good, they want to live it well.

This never fails to shake me to core – people coming together in the dead of winter, here and there, all over the world to bow their foreheads for the ash, to be told they are going to die, and to lift their faces once again toward the warm sun of redemption.



Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection into eternal life … Book of Common Prayer